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‘Unacceptable:' PPS leaders to evaluate future of school where student was killed

Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Wayne Walters speaking at a lectern on a sidewalk
Oliver Morrison
90.5 WESA
Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Wayne Walters speaks at a news conference on Wednesday afternoon, following a shooting at Oliver Citywide Academy.

Teachers at Oliver Citywide Academy have told their union they don’t want to go back to the building after a student was shot and killed outside of the school on Wednesday — the second such incident within a year and a half at the academy.

The North Side special education center for students in grades three through 12 typically enrolls 100 students.

Staff members said they want to finish the year online. For now, the district said students will learn remotely for the rest of the week.

“[The teachers] have been hurting tremendously,” said Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers President Nina Esposito-Visgitis. “Absolutely they are open and willing to changes … but we hope the district will continue to get teacher voice in what changes are made.”

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City police said student Derrick Harris, who was 16 years old, was shot around 7:25 a.m. as he was entering the school on Brighton Road on the North Side. He later died at a hospital. Police have arrested and charged 15-year-old Jaymier Perry with homicide and firearms violations in connection with Harris' death.

Another student at the special education center, 15-year-old Marquis Campbell, also was shot and killed in January 2022 while he sat in a van outside the special education center. Police in April 2023 arrested and charged brothers Eugene and Brandon Watson with homicide in Campbell’s death.

In September 2022, a teacher was sexually and physically assaulted by a student in the school.

During a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Superintendent Wayne Walters said administrators are evaluating the future of the school but declined to say more.

District administrators did not respond to multiple requests on Wednesday for information about support offered to students and teachers. The district released a statement several hours after the shooting and issued a robocall to families just before 5 p.m.

“This morning, a student on his way to school, unfortunately, lost his life. His classmates, teachers, and school staff will remember him as a bright, kind student who was everybody’s friend. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time,” Walters said in the robocall to families.

“We realize that this unfortunate incident may have a tremendous rippling effect," he added in the call. "If you need grief and trauma support, please reach out to your school social worker or counselor.”

PPS School Board President Sala Udin, during a board meeting Wednesday night, encouraged the community to reach out and support Harris’ family.

“Dr. Walters has already reached out to the family of the young man that was slain at Oliver this morning and shared our condolences with his mother,” he said. “They’re going to need our love in these coming weeks and months in a variety of ways.

"We need to reach out and find out what their needs are and get them those needs the best we are able.”

Esposito-Visgitis of the teachers’ union said teachers need more people in the building, for a start.

The district has several openings for paraprofessional aides who help teachers with behavioral and other student challenges. The union has filed several grievances because the district requires paraprofessionals to live within the city even though teachers do not have to do so.

“You already have teachers overworked. They have too much on their plate," she said. "Plus, they don’t have a paraprofessional in their room with some of our toughest kids in the district. It’s wrong."

As for the rest of the year, Esposito-Visgitis said Oliver teachers have asked to teach virtually for the rest of the year and come up with a plan for next year.

Walters said a Pittsburgh Public Police officer was at the school at the time of the shooting, but he didn’t know where the officer was located.

The Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers also represents the district’s police officers and has advocated for several years to arm them. A formal proposal was voted down in 2018.

“We’ve been told that repeatedly that there is no appetite [on the board] to arm our police officers,” Esposito-Visgitis said.

The district’s police force is short on officers this year, and Esposito-Visgitis said she continues to push for giving them guns to protect students and staff from outside threats.

WESA's Oliver Morrison contributed.

Updated: May 25, 2023 at 6:15 AM EDT
This story was updated with Harris' age, according to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner.