Pittsburgh school board to vote on students' bill of rights

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The board of Pittsburgh Public Schools plans to vote this month on whether to add a student bill of rights -- written by students -- to the student code of discipline.

After four TeenBloc students from A+ Schools presented their ideas at a board education committee meeting Tuesday, board member Regina Holley said a resolution is being readied for a board vote on May 28.

"As education chair and a former principal, what they're asking for is not something that is unreasonable," Ms. Holley said after the meeting.

She said the bill of rights will bring students and adults together to work on solutions for everyone.

"I'm excited by the work the children have done," Ms. Holley said.

In October, the students in TeenBloc -- a program of the education advocacy group A+ Schools -- launched a campaign for the board to adopt a student bill of rights developed by 15 students from seven secondary schools.

The 10 rights include the right to a socially, emotionally and physically safe and positive school climate; equitable academic resources; and effective teachers.

The teens reinforced their efforts with a ratification by more than 1,700 students and a survey of more than 400 high school juniors and 26 school-based adults at nine secondary schools. The survey reported "large inequities."

At Monday's meeting, Senque Little-Poole, a student at Pittsburgh Science & Technology Academy 6-12 in Oakland, noted that only 20 percent of students surveyed said they can "very much discuss concerns with teachers or other adults who will listen."

He believes the student bill of rights will improve that as well as improve school climate.

"In the future, we see the student bill of rights as a backbone for change," he said.

Noting she has two younger siblings, Amma Ababio, a TeenBloc member who is a junior at Pittsburgh Allderdice High School in Squirrel Hill, said, "I believe the adoption of the student bill of rights will ensure their experience is better than mine."

School board member Cynthia Falls asked superintendent Linda Lane to collect information on how many schools offer student government and disciplinary committees as ways for student input.

After the meeting, Amma said that student government can be a popularity contest, but the student bill of rights would give a voice to all students.

She said the bill of rights would give students "ownership of their education and change things in a positive manner."

Board member Terry Kennedy said that "with rights comes responsibility," adding that the right of free expression could not result in students talking meanly to their teachers or peers.

Board President Thomas Sumpter told the students their actions made him feel "very proud" they are city students.

Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955. First Published May 13, 2014 9:15 PM

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