Campaign to reopen Pittsburgh Public Schools amid coronavirus pandemic releases 407 recommendations

It’s a historic task in the making. How can Pittsburgh Public Schools reopen by the end of next month? More than 300 parents, students, educators, public and health officials, community members and dozens of organizations collaborated on the undertaking. They spent hundreds of hours conversing about what families and staff need for a safe return to  Pittsburgh Public Schools [PPS] as part of the district’s All In to Reopen Our Schools campaign. On Wednesday, 407 recommendations for the district from the campaign’s 14 subcommittees on topics from instruction to health and safety were made public on the district website.

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.

J. Oliver Choo is a graduating senior from Fox Chapel Area High School.

Black Fox Chapel students have spoken up about racism in our school district. Now students like me are no longer afraid to share our experiences.

Until a month ago, I was proud of graduating from Fox Chapel Area High School. I was grateful for the enthusiastic faculty as well as the friendships I had made. However, the recent controversy surrounding racism at Fox Chapel has compelled me to revisit my own experience with prejudice at the school – one that I have tried hard to forget. My ethnicity is half-Taiwanese and half-Korean. My heritage is known for its legendary empires, scientific innovation and excellent cuisine.

‘Welcome to the movement’: Hundreds rally against police brutality, racism at Allderdice, in Bloomfield and Fox Chapel

Hundreds gathered at Allderdice High School and in Bloomfield and Fox Chapel borough on June 11, the 13th day of Black Lives Matter protests in Pittsburgh. 

Those in attendance carried signs, participated in chants and listened to impassioned speakers who called on the crowds to show solidarity with Black students and residents in the Pittsburgh area along with those who have experienced police brutality. "Welcome to the movement because we are going to need every single one of you ... Oppressive institutions don't get to tell the oppressed how to fight for their freedom." —State Rep. Summer Lee

In Bloomfield, skateboarders convened to honor George Floyd and others taken by police violence. At one point in their rolling march, they shut down traffic on Bloomfield Bridge and the Black Lives Matter demonstration ended in Friendship Park.

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.

What is lost: On (not) teaching during a pandemic

On the sixth day of social distancing, I sat on my couch and finished rereading “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” which my AP literature class is — or was — studying. Even after teaching the novel for years, I still don’t get the title. 

Near the end of the book, a hurricane whips and cracks against the cabin where Janie, Tea Cake and their friend Motor Boat are riding out the storm. Along with the people in the other cabins surrounding them, “[t]hey seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.” 

For a book so invested in exploring the individual and her relationship to the community, this sudden turn to nature, catastrophe and God has always felt random to me. But perhaps that is the point. Because that is just how all life is — struck down by random turns of the divine. 

Just over a month ago, my life was dedicated to lesson plans, critical theory and equitable grading practices.