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PPS board tables summary citations policy, citing a need to address disproportionate use 

An administration building made of stone.
Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh Public Schools will continue its nearly nine-month moratorium on issuing students low-level criminal offenses, also known as “non-traffic” summary citations.

The measure is the most minor criminal offense issued in Pennsylvania and can go on a student’s permanent record. School board members opted Wednesday to table a policy proposal months in the making that would have lifted the ongoing pause on the practice, citing a lack of substantive change.

While the proposed policy outlined how police are to work with principals to determine whether a citation is needed, as well as the procedure for notifying parents, board members said that it wouldn’t do much to address the main issue at hand: Black students — specifically Black girls — are issued citations at disproportionate rates.

Black students make up just over half of the district’s enrollment, although they received 89% of citations issued during the 2021-2022 school year. Students with disabilities are overrepresented in the breakdown of students receiving citations as well.

Director Sala Udin said the board must come back with a better plan for supporting those students.

“It's the easy way out to just figure out how to punish people. More importantly, we have to figure out how to support them,” Udin said.

School board president Gene Walker was the sole vote against tabling the policy. He urged his peers not to extend the pause, stating that students, staff and administrators want additional tools to keep schools safe.

“Just because we have a tool available doesn't mean that we have to use it. We have a superintendent who has the authority to say, even though this thing is available, we're not going to use it,” Walker said. “And I think it's better to have a tool that you don't use than need a tool that you don't have.”

Board members first issued the moratorium last June. While the district held feedback sessions with stakeholders on the issue last fall, director Jamie Piotrowski, who chairs the board’s policy committee, said the original intention for the policy got lost amid changes in the board’s membership and disagreements between committee members.

“I think we just kind of lost sight of where we were going,” Piotrowski said, adding that the board “never really had any goals.”

Superintendent Wayne Walters said that administrators are working to implement other supports for students and staff while the moratorium on citations continues.

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.