Pittsburgh Public Schools Board To Hear Arguments Over Armed Officers

The public will have a chance to present arguments before the board votes Wednesday

Shelby Cassesse
October 22, 2018 - 4:21 pm

PITTSBURGH (Newsradio 1020 KDKA) - Pittsburgh Public School board members will hear public arguments Monday night in regards to placing armed officers into schools.

A 1997 policy forbids officers hired by the district to carry firearms, but recent school shootings across the country have prompted the police chief to ask for a revision to the policy. The board is expected to vote Wednesday.

The Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers asked the board for more discussion regarding where and when the officers will be used. They suggested placing officers in mobile units outside of schools or at evening events. 

PFT Vice President Bill Hileman says some believe the organization is in full support of placing armed officers in all schools, but that is not the case. 

"We believe that the current policy that prohibits issuing firearms in any occasion without even discussing it was too restrictive, so we asked them to adjust their policy. That's been interpreted by some as asking for armed police officers to be in our schools, and that's not true. There might be some situations where there would be a police officer in our schools. That's true now. Pittsburgh Police, when they come to our schools, they carry their firearms on their belt. It may be the case that it sometimes that happens with our school police, but it's not something that we said was a need." 

Those against changing the policy have said it would negatively impact the students and their relationships with police officers, especially African American students who are arrested by school officers at a disproportionate rate. 

Harold Jordan, Senior Policy Advocate at the American Civil Liberties of Pennsylvania, was critical of those arguing for the policy change, saying the reasoning has shifted from protecting students from outside threats to needing to control students. 

"It's never been clear to me exactly what the argument for doing it is. What we know is that the school district of Pittsburgh, like other districts in the state, has arrangements with local law enforcement where Pittsburgh Police are available to deal with outside threats to schools."

Though there may be many differing opinions outside of the board, the majority of the board has publicly said they would vote against the policy. Both sides are prepared for Pittsburgh Public School officers to remain unable to carry firearms.

Hileman feels a vote Wednesday would be too soon and avoid discussion the PFT as requested. 

"The discussion that we approached them to have never fully happened, and my view is that they should postpone the vote."

The hearing will begin at 6 p.m. Monday at the Pittsburgh Board of Education in Oakland.