FISA supports Black Girls Equity Alliance demand: Make Black Lives Matter in Schools

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Gwen’s Girls, a grantee and partner of FISA Foundation, offers holistic, gender-specific programs, education, and experiences for Black girls and young women. For the last five years, CEO Kathi Elliott has convened and organized the Black Girls Equity Alliance, a coalition of individuals and organizations committed to addressing the systemic inequities affecting Black girls in our region.

Recently, Gwen’s Girls organized an excellent and timely webinar:  WHAT DOES BLACK LIVES MATTER IN SCHOOLS? which we highly recommend.  Local and national experts and students make the case for how schools, particularly Pittsburgh Public Schools are over-policing and criminalizing common teen behaviors, particularly in Black students.  A few key facts:

  • PPS refers students to law enforcement at rates higher than
    in 95% of other cities across the U.S.
  • In 2019, Black boys are 9 times more likely to be arrested by Pittsburgh Public Schools police than White boys; Black girls are 12 times more likely to be arrested by PPS police than White girls.
  • 54% of arrests of Black girls and 45% of arrests of Black boys by Pittsburgh Public Schools police officers resulted in a charge of disorderly conduct.  This is a subjective and highly discretionary offense that can be applied to behaviors like talking too loudly, swearing, or making obscene gestures — behaviors that are common and not particularly noteworthy among teenagers.

These are but a few statistics illustrating the disproportionately negative consequences  for Black students of having police inside Pittsburgh Public Schools.  More data points can be found on this Fact Sheet on the School-to-Prison Pipeline in Pittsburgh Public Schools.

FISA Foundation joined Gwen’s Girls and the Black Girls Equity Alliance in submitting this letter to PPS School Board: Make Black Lives Matter in School.  While the Pittsburgh Public School Board did take action on a couple of the recommendations in the letter, disappointingly, the recommendation to remove “Disorderly Conduct” from the 6-12 Code of Conduct did not pass.

Four board members voted to remove it: Pam Harbin, Kevin Carter, Sala Udin, and Devon Taliaferro.  But Sylvia Wilson, Cynthia Falls, Terry Kennedy, William Gallagher, and Veronica Edwards did not support this action, in spite of significant data illustrating the negative impacts of this discretionary offense on Black, Brown, and Disabled students in Pittsburgh Public Schools.  Additionally, no action has been taken to reduce the police presence in schools.

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