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Pittsburgh Public Schools Board OKs new school start times, moratorium on disciplinary citations 

The main door of Colfax Elementary and Middle School in Squirrel Hill.
Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
The district’s board voted Wednesday night during its legislative session to delay the start time at most of its secondary schools to 7:40 a.m.

Middle and high schoolers students at Pittsburgh Public Schools will see a later start to their school day beginning this fall.

The district’s board voted Wednesday night during its legislative session to delay the start time at most of its secondary schools to 7:40 a.m.

While the school day at most PPS high schools currently starts at 7:15 a.m., parents have long called on the district to more closely align the school day with guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics. The association recommends schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. to protect students’ mental and physical well-being, as well as to ensure they get enough sleep.

Proponents of the move called the decision to begin the school day at 7:40 a.m. “a good start.”

“I know not everybody's going to be happy, but until we get past this post-pandemic situation that we're in, I appreciate that the administration is doing the best that they can,” said District 7 Director Jamie Piotrowski.

The board voted 8-1 to delay the start time. The district will use a tiered system, with high schools and 6-12 buildings beginning at 7:40 a.m.

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Middle and elementary schools will see their start time shifted by between five and 30 minutes, with start times at 8:20 a.m., 8:40 a.m. and 9:10 a.m.

Several board members acknowledged the new bell schedule may create difficulties for some families and teachers. PPS Superintendent Wayne Walters added the district tried to align the different school schedules, but the district’s ongoing bus driver shortage complicated that.

“We wanted to try to address later start times to the extent that we could, but we also wanted to make sure that we didn't create schedules where students were not able to be transported in a timely manner,” he said. “We're trying to support the fact that when school ends, we are able to provide buses in a timely fashion to have our students be transported back home safely.”

PPS will stop issuing citations until procedures are established

The board also voted Wednesday to temporarily halt the issuance of summary citations at all PPS institutions. The move came days after calls from the ACLU and other local advocates pointing out consistent data that Black students — and especially Black girls — disproportionately receive summary citations in comparison to other groups.

The offenses, often called non-traffic citations, are the most minor type of criminal offense in Pennsylvania and often apply to low-level infractions, like disorderly conduct. Recipients are ordered to appear before a magisterial district judge, where they are typically assessed fines, and failure to pay results in a referral to juvenile court.

Seven of the board’s nine members voted in favor of the moratorium, with one abstention from District 6 representative Bill Gallagher and a vote in opposition from District 1 representative Sylvia Wilson.

Board members in favor of the moratorium said the district lacked a uniform procedure for issuing the citations, determining when they are warranted and what alternative interventions to first use before referring students to school police.

The proposed 2023-2024 student code of conduct — which was passed broadly by the board Wednesday — initially added three paragraphs discussing the summary citation process where there was none before.

But that language was left open-ended, dictating only that school police consult a school principal before issuing a citation, and that a student’s disability status must be taken into consideration.

“We continue to do a disservice to our students when we don’t stop and address our functionality and how that impacts our students,” said Devon Taliaferro, who represents District 2.

Several board members noted the policy as written didn’t build in procedures to ensure equity. In the 2021-2022 school year, 89% of the students who received citations were Black, though they make up only 53% of the district’s students.

According to board member Pam Harbin, of the 90 citations issued during the 2021-2022 school year, none of them were explicitly for violence. Rather, the majority of them cite instances of harassment and disorderly conduct.

Schools in Pennsylvania aren’t required to use citations as a form of discipline, and few do, according to the ACLU. PPS solicitor Ira Weiss added the district has used summary citations at a far higher rate than any other district he’d ever seen.

“What is the implicit bias that's causing such a disproportionate amount of suspensions and disproportionate amount of citations?” Board president Sala Udin asked. “We need to point the finger at ourselves, folks.

“It's not the kids. It's us, and until we deal with that, it's going to continue.”

Walters said the district is currently undergoing an equity audit, led by an independent party, to look at racial disparities. Walters said the study will conclude at the end of the summer and will be presented to the school board.

Walters added the administration is working on making summary citation data publicly available, as the board directed it to do so in a September 2020 resolution. Walters told the board he will share more information once a method for disseminating that information is determined.

The school board’s policy and safety committees will work together to draw up procedures for issuing citations alongside district administration. The moratorium will remain in place until those procedures are approved by the board, or until Nov. 30, 2023 — whichever comes first.

Corrected: June 29, 2023 at 9:53 AM EDT
This story previously misstated the number of students who were issued citations during the 2021-2022 school year. 90 students received a total of 96 citation charges.
Jillian Forstadt is an education reporter at 90.5 WESA. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she covered affordable housing, homelessness and rural health care at WSKG Public Radio in Binghamton, New York. Her reporting has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition.