Pittsburgh Public Schools students rally for new student bill of rights
October 14, 2013 7:22 PM
Dara Ware Allen, assistant superintendent of student support services for the Pittsburgh schools, is interviewed after appearing at a rally organized by TeenBloc at A schools.
Stephanie Hamiel, 16, a junior at City Charter High School, listens during an assembly in the Hillman Auditorium in the Hill District promoting a student bill of rights in Pittsburgh schools.
A button promoting a student bill of rights in Pittsburgh schools is affixed to a student's bag as she leaves the Kaufmann Center following a rally.
Kendre Crawford-Blue, 17, at left, is among students rallying at the Kaufmann Center in the Hill District in support of a Student Bill of Rights drafted by TeenBloc student leaders.
By Eleanor Chute Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The TeenBloc students from A+ Schools want to be sure Pittsburgh Public Schools hears student voices.
In a campaign launched at a rally Monday, TeenBloc called on the district to adopt a student bill of rights developed by the 15 students from seven secondary schools, with the campaign slogan, "We deserve to be served."
Kendre Crawford Blue, a senior at Pittsburgh Milliones 6-12, also known as University Prep, said that on a visit to the Carnegie Mellon University campus last year, "I realized I had been let down. ... I realized I wasn't even close to being ready for college."
While she said she had good grades, she said she didn't have access to accelerated classes, was assigned little homework and took classes that lacked adequate books.
Amma Ababio, a junior at Pittsburgh Allderdice, said schools don't have equal resources and zero tolerance policies are pushing students away instead of addressing the root causes of problems.
The 10 rights sought by the TeenBloc members were drawn up over a period of months, including meeting with about 80 students. Members are asking students to show their support at their schools or on the website of A+ Schools, an education advocacy group.
Dara Ware Allen, district assistant superintendent of student support services, told the students she welcomed their input, noting one of the district's goals is building a student-focused culture. She pledged to review their proposal but cautioned that the district may not be able to accept all of the recommendations.
Bill Isler, the only board member present at the rally, said of the students afterward, "I think it's phenomenal they're getting involved."
The district currently is in the midst of a review of the Student Code of Conduct.
The current code lists some student rights, such as the "constitutional right to express themselves unless such expression materially and substantially interferes with the educational process, threatens immediate harm to the welfare of the school or community, encourages unlawful activity or interferes with another individual's rights."
The first right on the students' list is the right to free expression.
Another right sought by the students is the "right to a socially, emotionally and physically safe and positive school climate."
They describe it this way: "We want to be in a positive learning environment that does not resemble a prison and where the fundamental dignity of all is protected. All disciplinarians (including contracted service providers like bus drivers or security staff) are to be trained in youth development, positive behavior interventions, de-escalation techniques and restorative justice practice."
TeenBloc members also are seeking rights to:
• Participate in decisions that affect our education.
• Equitable academic resources.
• Inclusive teaching and learning environments in our classrooms.
• Be treated with respect and dignity by the school community.
• Effective teachers.
• Positive school disciplinary policies and practices.
• Equitable access to accelerated classes and academic counseling.