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Education

City School Board Rejects Expanding Suspension Ban In Early Grades

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Katie Blackley
/
90.5 WESA

A Wednesday evening meeting of the Pittsburgh Public Schools Board saw a contentious and impassioned debate regarding changes to the student codes of conduct. Board member Pam Harbin proposed a suspension ban for third through fifth graders, building on a current district rule that prohibits schools from suspending Kindergarten through second graders for nonviolent infractions.

The board recently learned, though, that while the number of suspensions in those grades has drastically declined, schools have continued to remove students when they were not supposed to.

The expansion of the suspension ban for third through fifth graders failed. Harbin, Sala Udin and Devon Taliaferro voted for the measure; Kevin Carter and Bill Gallagher abstained; and Veronica Edwards, Cindy Falls, Terry Kennedy and Sylvia Wilson voted no. The codes of conduct for K-5 and 6-12 students were both amended and approved.

A report compiled by statewide advocacy group One PA found that Kindergarten through fifth graders missed 1,476 days of school in the 2018-19 school year because of suspensions. Nearly 80 percent of those students suspended were Black.

“These children don’t have anymore time,” Harbin said. “They’re coming back after a pandemic and they need us, they need care and they need things to access their education. And we’re just going to send them home?”

Falls said she resented that the expansion was voted on without staff and public input. Kennedy suggested that removing students teaches accountability for actions.

“There becomes a point where no one in the classroom is learning because of maybe one or two [disruptive] children,” she said.

Board member Devon Taliaferro retorted that adults in the system were hurting children by not finding solutions. She said she didn’t think any student should be suspended.

The board did remove the ability for school administrators to suspend a student for repeated level 1 nonviolent actions which includes tardiness, inappropriate language, possession of a telecommunication device and disruption of class. The board also removed the language last year.

The board also approved a six year extension to a partnership with the Wilkinsburg School District. Pittsburgh Public will educate middle and high school students through the 2026-27 school year.