Pittsburgh Public School Board Votes For Independent Data Analysis On Arrests and Citations


On today's program: After a report found that Black students in Pittsburgh are referred to the juvenile justice system at much higher rates than their white peers, the Pittsburgh Board of Education says they will take steps to reimagine school safety; machine learning could help proactively identify children most at-risk for lead poisoning; and how fire hydrants ended up on trails in Frick Park.

Pittsburgh Public Schools rethink school safety and the role of police officers in schools
(00:00 — 5:22)

A report by the Black Girls Equity Alliance released last week found that Pittsburgh public Schools students are referred to law enforcement at rates higher than students in 95 percent of similar U.S. cities, and that Black students in Pittsburgh are referred to the juvenile justice system at much higher rates than their white peers, despite no differences in behavior.

Now, the Pittsburgh Board of Education is taking steps they say will reimagine school safety.  

The school board voted Wednesday on two separate initiatives, including hiring an independent contractor. 90.5 WESA’s education reporter Sarah Schneider says Pittsburgh Public School District Superintendent Anthony Hamlet recommended the independent evaluation of arrests and citations because the district, like many others, does not track the data in an accessible way.

“He says the report will give administrators a better understanding of—using his words here—‘the root cause of the referral,’ because implicit bias could play a role in this, but they really don’t know because the board doesn’t receive regular updates of arrests and citations,” says Schneider.

The board also approved a resolution to create a community lead-task force to evaluate the data and offer recommendations to the board to “enhance student safety and well-being.” Those recommendations are due in March, and, according to Schneider, could offer suggestions about whether to continue to have police officers in schools.

Machine learning could help predict and prevent lead poisoning in children
(5:26 — 13:54)

Lead poisoning is still a life-threatening public health issue across the country, particularly for children. In Pittsburgh, the Water and Sewer Authority has devoted $1 billion to improving infrastructure and lowering lead levels in water.


Allegheny County mandates testing for children between the ages of nine and 12 months of age and again at two years, but for lead exposure, treating the problem is often reactionary.

Carnegie Mellon University professor Rayid Ghani conducted a study with the Chicago Department of Public Health using a machine learning model that proactively identifies children who are most at risk. He says the project could help predict which kids are likely to be exposed to lead, and give health departments more time to plan and test homes for lead hazards before they hurt children.

“Nobody cares about predicting kids who are going to get lead poisoning, we care about reducing that number and preventing that from happening,” he says.

Lead poisoning disproportionately impacts lower income and minority children. The project’s predictive computer model takes the same kind of technology used to predict stock markets and applies it to people, which Ghani says could help officials “use the past to predict the future.”

“This is an example of using the same kind of technology, but for something that’s hopefully helping people—especially helping people in a way that’s much more equitable,” says Ghani.

Why are there fire hydrants in Frick Park?
(13:57 — 17:42)

Frick Park’s 644 acres include extensive hiking trails, hundreds of species of wildlife and cast iron fire hydrants that seem to be out of place.


For 90.5 WESA’s Good Question! series, Katie Blackley reports on how these icons of city living came to be in the woods of Frick Park.  

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.