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Report: Some PA Schools Underreport Student Arrest Data

by Emily Scott, Keystone State News Connection

Jan 27, 2022
Busy High School Corridor During Recess With Blurred Students And Staff

Keeping track of student arrests and law enforcement referrals is a key tool for transparency and accountability within schools, but a new report found some Pennsylvania schools have regularly underreported data on student arrests.

Analysis by the ACLU of Pennsylvania showed Allegheny County public schools underreported student arrests by 83% in the 2017-2018 school year, including Pittsburgh Public Schools, which reported no arrests.

Ghadah Makoshi, community advocate for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said misrepresentation erodes trust in the education system.

“It also impacts all their peers. It impacts the adults,” Makoshi noted. “It changes the environment, the dynamics, that is happening in that school. And then, when you take that even further, it impacts the community if that student drops out, if they’re no longer engaged. It is a greater city/community issue.”

Juvenile justice system data show 499 student arrests within Pittsburgh Public Schools that year. District officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The underreporting extends beyond Pennsylvania as well, with discrepancies found in New York and Los Angeles.

The report said the county’s Black public-school students were arrested at nearly nine times the rate of white students during the 2018-2019 school year, a difference higher than the national average.

Makoshi pointed out one of the recommendations in the report is to ensure police are not involved in ordinary, everyday school discipline.

“The other thing that happens when police get involved is that things tend to escalate,” Makoshi asserted. “Police should only be involved, one, when it’s mandated by the state — and there are specific infractions where police must be notified and must be involved — or [two], when there’s a health-and-safety emergency.”

Minor offenses and drug charges accounted for nearly half of all public-school arrests in Allegheny County. Other recommendations in the report include reinvesting funds for police into student resources such as school psychologists, nurses, counselors and social workers.

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