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Pittsburgh Public to oversee schooling at Allegheny County Jail, Shuman Center

Students inside a classroom at the Allegheny County Jail.
An-Li Herring
90.5 WESA
Students inside a classroom at the Allegheny County Jail.

Pittsburgh Public Schools will soon begin delivering educational services at the Allegheny County Jail. The district is responsible under state law for the education of students held there.

A state complaint filed by attorneys with the Education Law Center in December alleged that many students with disabilities had not received the special education services they are entitled to while incarcerated at the jail.

Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Special Education filed a report affirming attorneys’ claims last month. Investigators with the agency noted there was “no evidence” that students in the jail’s isolation units were receiving the “free appropriate public education” they are entitled to under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

As of Tuesday, there 28 individuals under the age of 18 held at the jail.

District superintendent Wayne Walters told school board members Tuesday that administrators were not aware they were responsible for delivering those services prior to the complaint.

“Because during that time, the Allegheny Intermediate Unit had been the educational provider for many, many years — probably before the Allegheny County Jail, in its present space, was built,” Walters said.

While the jail’s current Second Avenue facility in downtown Pittsburgh is nearly 30 years old, long-time Pittsburgh Public Schools solicitor Ira Weiss said the district’s arrangement with the Allegheny Intermediate Unit goes back decades further.

According to Weiss, the agreement dates back to a time before the Allegheny Intermediate Unit had its current name. Prior to the creation of Pennsylvania’s 29 Intermediate Units in the 1970s, county superintendents oversaw regional education.

Pittsburgh Public Schools, however, remains the jail’s designated local education agency and because of that, the state deemed the district ultimately responsible for the recent violations.

Weiss said that after weighing multiple options, administrators decided that the district would oversee education inside the jail itself rather than contract with the Allegheny Intermediate Unit or another operator. Pittsburgh Public will officially transition into this role at the start of August.

In addition, the district will also be responsible for educational programming at Shuman Juvenile Detention Center when it reopens in the coming weeks. Instructional services at the facility, which has been closed since 2021, were previously provided by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit.

According to a board resolution presented Tuesday, the state’s Deputy Secretary of Education, Carrie Rowe, sent a letter to the District on May 7 confirming that the district is responsible for providing instruction to students residing at Shuman.

Board member Devon Taliaferro said that overseeing both facilities’ instruction will be a “large undertaking” for the district. The transition comes at a time when the district already has a full plate, with dwindling financial reserves, looming school consolidations and plummeting employee morale to address.

“But I do believe that these students that have to be educated in both these spaces deserve a quality educational experience,” Taliaferro said.

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.