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Pittsburgh Public Schools Board adopts parts of Student Bill of Rights

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Pittsburgh Public Schools’ students have led the call for change. TeenBloc, A+ Schools’ student-led group, drafted the Student Bill of Rights to address the most pressing concerns the district faces. The PPS Board recently adopted pieces of the Bill in their revised student code, marking a big success for teen advocacy in Pittsburgh.

 A+ Schools, Pittsburgh’s advocate for equity and excellence in public education, surveyed over 400 high school juniors and 26 principals, counselors, and teachers in Pittsburgh’s nine public secondary schools. The subsequently published School Works Report highlighted that school climate, positive discipline practices, and staff instability are concerns in high poverty schools. 

The Student Bill of Rights called for change in those areas of school policy, and the students leading the effort are proud that their opinions have been considered.

Board President Thomas Sumpter recognized that the students were the true catalysts for change. “Sometimes the best information you get comes from the student. They’re involved, they’re on the ground, they’re right in there experiencing what’s happening. We can set policies but in terms of their impact, you get a true picture coming from the students,” Sumpter stated. 

The district pledges to eliminate zero-tolerance policies, infractions for which out-of-school suspension is automatic. Reforming this area of the disciplinary code keeps students in school and reduces the related effect of chronic absenteeism (defined as missing eighteen or more days of school). 

Though not all parts of the Student Bill of Rights were incorporated, the revised student code also includes the right to free expression, an anti-discriminatory policy on the basis of race, gender expression, or sexual orientation. Additionally, students were granted a more participatory role in decisions that affect their education, the right to equitable academic resources, and the right to a socially, emotionally, and physically safe and positive school climate. 

TeenBloc director Pam Little-Poole stated that, “I am both excited and encouraged by the revisions to our Code of Student Conduct. I think this is a big win for all PPS students.”

Amma Ababio, a junior at Taylor Allderdice, commented that, “I recognize that the incorporation of the Student Bill of Rights into Pittsburgh’s Student Code of Conduct is the first step in addressing issues facing students in our district. However, in order for those issues to be addressed, there needs to be open conversations between students, the school board, administration, and our schools’ teachers and principals. I wholeheartedly believe that once those conversations begin the vision embodied in the Student Bill of Rights can be fulfilled.” 

After a year and a half of hard work by TeenBloc and A+ Schools, PPS Board’s acceptance of most of the Student Bill of Rights sets an important precedent for student advocacy. Teens can, and should, care about the district policies affecting their every-day lives. Positive school climate and the reduction of zero-tolerance policies are essential for academic success in the classroom, and the district appears to be committed to making these ideals realities.