Creating a safe school environment where all students can succeed
Allocating money to student support services, eliminating suspensions, removing police officers from schools, and fostering collaborative activism and participatory democracy.
Allocating money to student support services
The budget for student resources such as counselors, psychologists, and social workers has been cut by over $450,000, and in some cases, positions have been eliminated, while the budget for security has increased. These kinds of budget decisions are counterproductive. Police officers respond to stressful situations, often making them more difficult for students, while not providing necessary resources for student success. Students need mental health resources and education, counseling for day to day struggles, college preparation, support in dealing with transitions, and even loss from COVID-19. Eliminating and limiting social workers, counselors, and psychologists may also mean that parents are not getting the resources they need for their families.
The expected spending on security is $3,974,248 in 2021 is an increase of $100,635 over just one year, while at the same time, the budget for social workers is expected to be $3,369,379 (in 2021) which is a loss of $138,981. The PPS budget for 2021 also includes the elimination of a school psychologist (a cut of $5,155) and a decrease in budget for counselors from $3,926,102 in 2020 to a proposed $3,617,763 in 2021, a decline in funding of $308,339.
The district believes that “education begins with a safe and healthy learning environment.” These proposed budget changes do not make that possible.
Suspending children from school is not consistent with the district’s code of conduct to create an environment that is conducive to learning and community building. Our most vulnerable students are at the greatest risk of falling behind which could be a lingering consequence in their futures. Black students are suspended at disproportionately higher rates than their white counterparts, more than 2 times the rate of every other racial group. Students with disabilities are suspended nearly double the rate of students without disabilities.
Suspensions are a negative form of punishment that causes students to fall further behind in their academic and social emotional growth, allowing undesired behavior patterns to continue. This feeds the school to prison pipeline. Black students are already having intense interactions with the juvenile justice system causing severe negative youth development consequences, including disengagement from school, poor educational achievement, and future incarceration. This pattern will continue without appropriate intervention.
These practices are not unique to just Pittsburgh schools, but is a pattern all over Allegheny County. Pittsburgh Public Schools should lead by example and appropriately fund and utilize evidence based restorative practices. “Restorative practice is an alternative discipline approach that departs from the punitive model and instead uses a community-driven method to resolve conflicts where they arise, and to empathetically engage an offender in recognizing and repairing harm when it is caused.” These practices are found in extensive research published by The Center on Race and Social Problems University of Pittsburgh and supported by the Heinz Foundation.
As a member I will advocate to include grades 3-8 in the suspension ban and employ restorative practices to wholly educate and support our students.
Removing Police Officers from Schools
We cannot continue to traumatize students by having police in schools. The PPS student code of conduct says that students must learn in an environment that is “safe, respectful, and conducive to learning and community building”, and the school district must live up to that standard.
Research by the Fisa Foundation has found that PPS refers students to law enforcement at rates higher than in 95% of other large cities across the U.S. Fisa documents the harmful effects of police in schools:
Two-thirds of all arrests of Black girls in Pittsburgh in 2019 were made by PPS police.
About half of school-based arrests of Black youth (54% for Black girls and 42% for Black boys) in 2019 ultimately resulted in a charge of disorderly conduct
45% of Black boys referred to juvenile justice by the PPS police have a disability
Black boys are 5 times more likely than White boys to be referred by PPS to juvenile justice and Black girls 9 times more likely than White girls.
There should be a focus on restorative and trauma informed practices to address students’ perceived behavioral issues and the school board should ensure continued funding for student support services including social workers, counselors, and other mental health professionals.
Collaborative activism and participatory democracy
Students should be part of the decision-making process and development that happens in their communities. School board members, caregivers, teachers, and administrators should involve students by teaching them how to take care of their neighborhoods, teaching them about their civic duties, and the public process. Development is happening around them all the time without their input. Every time a policy is introduced board members should be thinking about how this will affect young people and students, and asking students themselves.
As the district faces a deficit the board should promote transparency and participation by giving students and parents the opportunity to identify and discuss their top priorities for the district’s spending. I will work with local and state representatives of the entire Pittsburgh Public Schools District and will always do my best to meet with and listen to the ideas and concerns of parents, students, teachers, residents, and leaders to help meet the needs of District 7.