DA satisfied with discipline in Pittsburgh schools highlighted by shooting near Brashear

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The Allegheny County district attorney's office said today it is satisfied with Pittsburgh Public Schools' explanation of how it handles discipline within its buildings and its efforts to review a shooting near Brashear High School last week.

District Judge James A. Motznik last week questioned whether the district properly handled an Oct. 18 fight and attempted robbery that police have said provided the likely motive for a shooting Nov. 13 near Brashear.

Judge Motznik also said he was concerned because his office -- which hears truancy cases and summary disorderly conduct cases -- heard fewer cases from Brashear this year than in previous years. He wondered whether the district was properly handling them.

In a letter dated Nov. 19 and released today, district solicitor Ira Weiss told District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. that a Safe Schools Audit conducted by the state auditor general found that across two school years, the Pittsburgh school district "reported Disorderly Conduct at a rate that was over three times the state average. The Auditor considered the District's definition of Disorderly Conduct to be a 'behavioral definition' that resulted in the over reporting of Disorderly Conduct."

The district consulted with the Education Law Center, which worried that the over-reporting was disproportionately affecting black male students, Mr. Weiss wrote. He said the district worked with the Education Law Center to change its code of conduct so that more minor infractions would be handled within the school district's disciplinary process rather in the courts.

For example, students caught using cell phones or wearing hats will no longer be cited in the court system, district officials have said.

A spokesman for Mr. Zappala's office, Mike Manko, said today, "The District Attorney received the ... letter this week regarding Brashear and he is satisfied with the explanation given by the solicitor for how they are handling matters."

The school board is expected to vote Tuesday on superintendent Linda Lane's request to spend $4,000 to hire outside firm CSI Corporate Security and Investigations to review the shooting and the earlier fight and attempted robbery.

Mr. Weiss also told Mr. Zappala that the district "would welcome a chance to meet with you and your staff to discuss the results of that review and to further discuss student and school safety generally."

Mr. Weiss told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this afternoon that he thinks the letter "speaks for itself." He said he hoped it would emphasize the district's attempt to obtain an outside review and address criticism about its discipline system.

"I will say that the district has a very cooperative relationship with the district attorney's office," Mr. Weiss said. "We believed that that kind of relationship is essential for the safety of students and staff and really the public, and we view it as a very positive thing and this letter was sent in that spirit."

Pittsburgh police arrested 16-year-old Anjohnito Willet last week and charged him as an adult with attempted homicide and other crimes after they said he opened fire outside the school, striking three students.

Two of the students hit by gunfire -- DaJour Jones, 15, and Robert "Eugene" Minor III, 17 -- were charged as juveniles with simple assault, robbery, disorderly conduct and conspiracy after school police said they jumped Anjohnito near some lockers Oct. 18 and attempted to rob him while a third boy served as a lookout. Those charges are still pending.

A third student who was struck by gunfire, 17-year-old Andrew Umphrey, was not charged in connection with that encounter.

First Published November 21, 2013 1:38 PM

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