Last year, students from several Pittsburgh public schools came together with education advocacy group A+ Schools and the Education Law Center to craft the Student Bill of Rights. While the entire list was not adopted, parts of it were incorporated into a revised Student Code approved by the Pittsburgh Public Schools board.
“Sometimes the best information you get comes from the student,” said Board President Thomas Sumpter. “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 impact of the policies, you get a true picture coming from students.”
Among the provisions adopted by the school board is giving more discretion in punishments, meaning no more zero tolerance policy, which can lead to suspensions for even minor incidents.
“We’re trying to do everything possible to keep kids in school. They can’t learn if they’re not in school,” said Sumpter. “Any opportunity that we can to provide for make-up for indiscretions but still keep kids in school it’s going to be better for the student.”
Other policies outlined in the student code include the right to free expression, which means students can’t be discriminated against because of race, gender expression or sexual orientation, as long as they remain in compliance with dress codes.
Students had also requested the right to participate 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. Aspects of those requests made it into the code, and those who worked with the students on the bill of rights said they feel empowered and more connected to their schools because of this process.
“It helps to create a school culture that promotes positive student outcomes,” said Pamela Little-Poole with A+ Schools. “The current revisions to the code, especially around school-based discipline is in line with best practices.”
An item that did not make it into the revised code a was the “right to efficient transportation” to and from school. Little-Poole said students with Teen Bloc, the group that drafted the bill of rights will continue to work with district officials to ensure students have a voice in the system.