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Pittsburgh Public Schools planned to move students out of Oliver before student's death last month

The front of Oliver Academy on the North Side in August.
Oliver Morrison
90.5 WESA
The front of Oliver Academy on the North Side in August.

Weeks after a 15-year-old student at Oliver Citywide Academy was shot and killed outside the school, Pittsburgh Public School administrators told board members that they already had plans to begin shifting students from the North Side school next year. And administrators say the future of the school is uncertain.

“This was planning that took place prior to previous incidents,” said Patti Camper, assistant superintendent of programs for students with exceptionalities. She said her team had been working on the plan since January.

Oliver enrolls students in third through twelfth grades with disabilities that require an Individualized Education Plan. Many students are referred to the school because they also have emotional or behavioral challenges. After the fatal shooting last month, the school’s staff told union leaders that they didn’t want to return to the building. It was the third violent event in a year and a half.

But administrators have been working on changes as part of a three-year special education plan the district must submit to the state.

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On Tuesday night, the district’s special education department said that since March it had planned to next year move the school’s youngest learners, grades 3-5, to a “satellite” site within a neighborhood school. The district also intends to initiate pilot programs for satellite sites in two neighborhood schools that will serve a sampling of students in grades 6-8 and 9-12.

That would bring the district in line with a Pennsylvania Department of Education guidance that students with disabilities spend more of their time in general education classes, rather than in full-service centers like Oliver. About 55 percent of PPS students with an IEP are in general education classes for more than 80 percent of the day. The state wants that to increase to about 62 percent.

Stephanie Paolucci, program officer for programs for students with exceptionalities, told board members the change “would look like a student who would be moving from Oliver Citywide Academy … into a comprehensive neighborhood school to participate in the satellite site.” The satellite would be located within the school but act as “a middle support step that we thought was going to be beneficial in successfully transitioning students back” into the general-education population.

Paolucci said that setting up a satellite program would require training and collaboration between specialists and teachers in the neighborhood schools “to kind of bridge that gap and have collaborative processes that those staff would be able to participate in with one another.”

Paolucci said that the district would train staff in the satellite sites to use the same strategies as Oliver's teachers used called therapeutic crisis intervention.

More extensive changes may be coming as a result of a series of violent incidents at the school. Derrick Harris was shot and killed, allegedly by another student, outside the building last month. Prior to that, 15-year-old Marquis Campbell was fatally shot inside of a school van at the end of the day in January 2022. And last October a teacher was sexually assaulted allegedly by a student inside of the school.

After Harris’ death, the district announced that the school would continue remote learning for the remainder of the year. Superintendent Wayne Walters said he was evaluating the future of the school. He has not answered WESA requests for comment since then.

On Tuesday night, Camper stressed that the changes for Oliver on the table “are not the extensive changes that may potentially occur in the future” as a result of those incidents.

It’s unclear if the district will follow through with this plan. Administrators have not said when they will release more information about the future of the school, and board members asked no questions about Oliver’s future Tuesday.

District spokesperson Ebony Pugh said the special education plan as a whole does not require a board vote, though components of it, such as training teachers at the satellite schools in therapeutic crisis intervention training, would require authorization. Pugh said the administration plans to submit the plan to the state this month but that plans for the school could be amended.