Update (2/29/24): The Pittsburgh school board voted, with a 7-1 majority, Wednesday to table a revised policy on reissuing summary citations and extended the moratorium intending to develop a more holistic school safety policy.

Jamie Piotrowski, chair of the Policy Committee, supported the motion to table the vote, saying that the initial goal of creating the policy was lost between various discussions and the board reorganization. She proposed that a new policy should come from the Operations and Safety Committee, headed by board member Yael Silk, who moved to table the vote on the policy. 

Board member Gene Walker, who voted against the motion to table the policy, said the motion will disregard the voices of teachers and administrators who have been asking for tools necessary to keep schools safe.

“In my experience prohibition leads to even worse outcomes than a policy that isn't great,” he said.

In response, board member Devon Taliaferro questioned the lack of conversations about eliminating summary citations that disproportionately impact Black girls.

The Policy Committee has held conversations about revising the district’s Code of Student Conduct and use of intervention methods but has not yet taken action. So far, the district has not collected any data to assess the use of disciplinary methods since the moratorium was issued, according to Superintendent Wayne Walters.

“I'd like to think people, on good faith, will not use this as a way to punish children,” said Taliaferro. “But unfortunately, the numbers don't say that. That's how we've used it in the past. And I'm not so confident that that's how we'll use it in the future.”

Pittsburgh school police may resume issuing citations, but with better communication

Reported (2/21/24): Pittsburgh schools may start reissuing summary citations against students after introducing a revised policy on student conduct on Wednesday.

The district placed a temporary pause on summary citations or non-traffic citations in July and later extended it twice while officials worked out a permanent solution.

Summary citations are issued for the most minor criminal offenses, often resulting in fines. According to a 2020 Black Girls Equity Alliance report, 492 students received citations in Allegheny County in the prior year, of which nearly a third were issued by Pittsburgh Public Schools [PPS] police.

The revised policy, introduced by the policy and the operations and safety committees at a Wednesday evening meeting, proposes changes to how the school principals must be notified before a citation is filed. The board will vote on the proposal during a scheduled legislative meeting on Feb. 28. If it passes, school principals will be required to determine whether an offense merits a citation or other supports such as an Individualized Education Plan or the Student Assistance Program.

The revised policy would also require the district to prepare a monthly report detailing summary citations, arrests and referrals to law enforcement.

Jamie Piotrowski, board member and Policy Committee chair, said these reports will give the board greater oversight over the issuance of citations.

A woman in glasses is talking while someone holds a cell phone.
Jamie Piotrowski, board member, is interviewed after the Pittsburgh Public Schools Board’s public agenda review meeting the evening of Feb. 21. (Photo by Pamela Smith/Rtvsrece)

Under the new policy, if a summary citation is filed, school principals will be required to notify the student’s parents or guardians and provide them with the name and address of the local magistrate.

Board President Gene Walker said the proposed changes will help the board in understanding whether the policy needs further revisions.

“It really comes down to how it's implemented, and then how well we as a school board hold the district accountable to the reporting requirements,” he said.

Education advocates and organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU] — a public interest law firm with a Pittsburgh office — pushed for the moratorium and have been calling for a permanent ban on summary citations, stating there is no evidence that the use of citations reduces student misbehavior and that they disproportionately impact students of color.

Ghadah Makoshi, a policy strategist at the ACLU, said in an interview that the revised policy would not necessarily eliminate the problems surrounding citations because the power to issue them will remain with the police officers who are subject to implicit bias.

“That was initially the problem in the first place is this highly discretionary, subjective art of when to call police and when to issue a citation. So for me, it's problematic that they're not detailing in what specific circumstances you would call the police officer,” said Makoshi.

She added the policy does not provide details on whether parents will be informed about fines, their rights regarding lawyers and appeals or the significance of a citation.

Piotrowski said with the changes in the policy, school principals will be able to send notifications earlier to parents and guardians and involve them in conversations about restorative practices.

A woman in a blue shirt is talking to reporters.
Sylvia Wilson, board member, is interviewed after the Pittsburgh Public Schools Board’s public agenda review meeting. (Photo by Pamela Smith/Rtvsrece)

Board member Sylvia Wilson, who opposed the moratorium last year, said the district should ensure citations are written correctly and only in serious cases of assaults or thefts. She added the revised policy will help to eliminate citations that were earlier given out by error.

“And when no matter what color somebody is, somebody has done something wrong, then that's what you did,” said Wilson. “We want to make sure that all the children are safe. The staff is safe.”

A citation can have long-term consequences because it can stay on a student’s permanent record if a judge upholds the charge. If a student is not found guilty, the charge can still show up on a background check without specifying whether it is an adult criminal offense.

Black students in the district receive citations at significantly higher rates than other student groups. In the 2021-22 school year, 87% of all citations were issued to Black students, according to the ACLU. Black students make up about 51% of the district’s student population.

The ACLU issued a letter in January stating the district has failed to implement a “specific framework for the use of restorative practices and other alternatives to exclusionary discipline.” The letter provided a list of recommendations on how PPS could address the harms caused by the use of summary citations.

Besides permanently stopping the use of citations, the ACLU recommended the district engage key stakeholders such as students, parents and representatives, develop a Corrective Action Plan and eliminate vague offense categories such as disruptive behavior and disorderly conduct.

As the next step, Piotrowski said the board will work with Superintendent Wayne Walters to be more transparent and strategically address disciplinary issues by getting students the right resources instead of being reactionary and issuing citations.

During the meeting, Walker said he is not advocating for the use of summary citations, and even with a new policy in place, the administration can continue withholding them.

“I think what we have is a much stronger policy that gives our school administrators the ability to provide safe learning environments for their kids,” he said.

Lajja Mistry is the K-12 education reporter at Rtvsrece. She can be reached at lajja@rtvsrece.com.

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Lajja is the K-12 Education Reporter at Rtvsrece. Originally from India, she moved to the States in 2021 to pursue a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Southern California. Before...