This summer, as protesters took to the streets to condemn racism and police brutality, two Pittsburgh Public Schools board members continued a longtime call for institutional change within the district.
This week, the board is expected to vote on a resolution by Devon Taliaferro and Pam Harbin to “re-think” school safety. The resolution was pulled from the August agenda. During that meeting Harbin said she expected it to be on the September agenda.
The two board members say that Black and brown students and students with disabilities are at risk when school police officers are in their buildings because those students are disproportionately policed by both district and city officers.
But first, the two want more data.
The resolution calls for monitoring arrest, citation and referral data and a community conversation on re-thinking school safety. The board does not receive regular arrest and citation data. The district employs 22 officers with the authority to make arrests and 80 school safety personnel, who district officials refer to as security guards. Security does not have arresting authority, but are assigned to monitor schools.
The board will also vote on a contract for an independent evaluation of police data. The contract is separate from Harbin and Taliaferro’s resolution, but will provide data for a community conversation on changing the way the district’s officers police students.
Superintendent Anthony Hamlet proposed the contract for an independent third-party analysis of current police data and police calls for service, arrests and citations. The data will be disaggregated by gender, grade, age, race, English language status, economic disadvantage status and whether the student has an Individual Education Plan – a plan written for students eligible for special education.
Last week the Black Girls Equity Alliance released a report that found that Black students in Allegheny County are referred to the juvenile justice system at a much higher rate than white children. According to the report, Pittsburgh Public Schools is the largest source of referrals for Black girls. In 2019, PPS officers were responsible for one-third of referrals to the juvenile justice system of local Black girls, compared to 9 percent of referrals of white girls.
The report found that while dramatic racial gaps persist in the county’s juvenile justice system, over the last 15 years, the overall rate at which children interact with the system has fallen by half.
“This report reveals alarming truths to the systemic inequities affecting Black youth in our region and the racial disproportionality in referrals to the juvenile justice system. We look forward to the results of this thorough data analysis that will help us better understand the sources and causes of inequitable juvenile justice engagements,” Hamlet said in a statement.
The legislative meeting is at 4 p.m. on Sept. 23. The meeting can be live streamed at pghschools.org.