Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Advocates Continue Calls for Suspension Reform in City Schools

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Advocates Continue Calls for Suspension Reform in City Schools

Article excerpt

Advocates renewed calls Monday for a new approach to how the city school district disciplines its youngest students, a matter the school board president called a "primary goal" to address.

Representatives from the Education Rights Network and the Education Law Center, a legal advocacy group, and parents asked again this year for an end to out-of-school suspensions or expulsions for nonviolent conduct for students in preschool through fifth grade in the Pittsburgh Public Schools.

"We know both from our data and our experience that students of color and students with disabilities are still disproportionately excluded from [PPS]," even though children of color are not more prone to misbehavior, said Cheryl Kleiman, executive director of the Education Law Center, in her testimony at the board's regular public hearing Monday night.

"We must stop excluding our youngest learners ... especially at critical development stages."

A recommendation in a recent analysis of the district from a consortium of the nation's 70 largest urban school systems suggested, among other things, the board look at axing suspensions in grades PreK-2 that don't involve immediate physical threats to student safety.

Pamela Harbin, a Point Breeze mother of two and co-founder of the Education Rights Network, said that suggestion "doesn't go far enough." She also noted that the district needs a full-time counselor or social worker in every school -and those specialists need the time to have more meaningful interactions with students.

What changes could take effect and when isn't clear yet. School board president Regina Holley said she and fellow members are concerned about the suspension numbers, but she said the district first needs to "strategize around this really horrible problem." Some schools are already addressing it this year with superintendent Anthony Hamlet's help, she said. …

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