Activists rally in the streets, then at a school board meeting, against police presence at Pittsburgh schools

While some students see school as a safe haven, “where you get that one meal a day, where you get to have mentors who don't judge you,” other students — mostly Black or brown and disproportionately impacted by the presence of school police — live in fear. “No one should ever feel as if they have a target on their back in school,” 18-year-old Rebekah Chikuni said. Chikuni is a 2020 graduate of Upper St. Clair High School who on Monday was among hundreds of students, parents and schools advocates who called on Pittsburgh Public Schools’ board of directors to remove police from its schools, first at a rally, then in public testimonies at a school board public hearing. 

School should be a place that nurtures students, promotes self-growth, Chikuni said, but with police in schools, “whether or not they're armed or not, their presence in schools is toxic to Black and brown students.” Chikuni is a member of GirlGov, a program of The Women and Girls Foundation, where she helps lead the racial justice committee. 

Nearly 300 people attended the school board’s Monday public hearing, where much of the public concern swirled around removing police from schools. Almost 250 people signed up to speak at the hearing, which prompted the board to split the meeting into two days.

Tiffany Sizemore, leader of the the Juvenile Defender Clinic at Duquesne University. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

Should police be in Pittsburgh schools? Advocates’ call for removal reignited in wake of Floyd’s death

Advocacy groups, including the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and some Pittsburgh parents have already been calling on PPS leaders for years to remove the police presence from schools and instead invest money in additional resources for students and schools, such as counselors, social workers and mental health professionals. In 2019, there were 623 youth ages 10 to 17 arrested by police in Pittsburgh, including school and city police, according to the ACLU.