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Following Violent Incidents, Head Of Pittsburgh Federation Of Teachers Says Action Is Needed Now

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- As violent incidents continue in the district, Pittsburgh Public Schools teachers say scenes like this are not uncommon lately.

The district indicates it's working on ways to address behaviors and restore order. But teachers and staff say some action is needed right now.

A fatal shooting outside Oliver Citywide Academy, a student hospitalized after another stomped on his head at Brashear High School and a teacher choked at Carrick High School. These incidents have raised an alarm that teachers and principals are no longer in control.

In a statement, PPS Acting Superintendent Dr. Wayne Walters rejected the notion that Pittsburgh schools are violent.

"The tragedies of last week are not who we are and certainly not representative of our district," he said on Thursday.

Walters indicated that the district is working on long-term solutions. But Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers President Nina Esposito-Visgitis is calling for the restoration of basic discipline.

"Some of the language we've heard of, some of the disrespect for teachers has been absolutely horrifying," Esposito-Visgitis said.

In November, the school board voted to keep a ban on suspensions for repeated low-level offenders in place, restricting principals from levying these and other disciplines on problem students.

"Teachers want to be able to teach in a safe environment," board member Sylvia Wilson said in November.

Opponents of the ban said the board had shirked its duty.

"We are telling the parents and guardians that we don't care that your child may not be safe in school," outgoing board member Terry Kennedy said in November.

The union is asking the board — with new members — to take up this measure again and lift the ban on these disciplines. Long-range, the union would like to hire more social workers and counselors to intercede with problem students. But the union rejects the push from some board members to begin phasing out the school police, saying they are needed now more than ever.

"They have excellent, excellent relationships with our students," Esposito-Visgitis said. "They know our students, they work well with our students."

In his statement, Walters said the district is looking at tackling the underlying problems of students returning to school during the pandemic, but his statement was light on details.

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