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Students slow to return to Brashear High School classes after shooting

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By Megan Harris
Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013, 11:47 p.m.
 

At least 173 students missed class at Brashear High School on Thursday, a figure school officials said “falls in line with a typical school day.”

An increased and vigilant police presence greeted the remaining 1,200 students filing onto school grounds since a gunman shot three students just after dismissal on Wednesday.

Counselors and additional school police were on campus, aided by mobile units and Pittsburgh officers monitoring arrivals and dismissals.

Students posted photos online of empty classrooms, characterizing the mood as “eerie,” “weird” and “quiet.”

Both Brashear and adjoining South Hills Middle School will be on a modified lockdown for the rest of the week, meaning only students, staffers and visitors with a scheduled appointment will be admitted to either school.

Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Linda Lane encouraged students to return to school. The lockdown, she said, likely will not extend into next week.

“I know there are some parents that chose to keep their students at home today,” Lane said. “But the school is still a community, a family. Sometimes, especially in tough times like they went through yesterday, you need that family to support you.”

Brashear employs guards and metal detectors with strict codes of conduct. Lane said she's not sure what else school officials can do.

“We just don't know yet, but of course you try to learn from every major incident,” she said.

Incidents reported through school safety reports filed with the state Department of Education fell districtwide from 17,686 during the 2008-09 academic year to fewer than 3,000 last year — an 85 percent decline. District spokeswoman Ebony Pugh referred questions about the dramatic decrease to school police, who did not return calls for comment.

Schools reported far fewer fights and cases of intimidation, bullying and disorderly conduct. Districtwide, three handguns were confiscated last year, one in 2011-12, four in 2010-11, two in 2009-10 and one in 2008-09.

Last year, Brashear reported the lowest incident rate among Pittsburgh Public Schools' four 9-12 high schools, including Perry, Westinghouse and Taylor Allderdice, with 97 incidents perpetrated by 138 offenders. Brashear officials reported dramatically higher incident rates in 2012 and 2010 with sharp spikes in disorderly conduct. No handguns were reported.

Derrick Lopez, president and CEO of Homewood Children's Village and former assistant superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools, helms a group of social workers and volunteers who help intervene in difficult situations at Westinghouse High School.

Preventing escalation is about relationship building, he said.

“You can't be punitive when students come to you with a legitimate concern,” Lopez said. “Relationships make schools safer, not metal detectors.”

Teachers and officers are trained individually to intervene when student safety is a concern, though former school police said officers are not allowed to make arrests or issue citations without permission from the district's central office.

“Fights happen, so someone has to be able to step in,” Pugh said. “And as with any police organization, there is a process.”

School police officials won't accept a report without a supervisor's signature. An officer can issue a citation on the spot, Pugh said, but “if an officer believes charges should be filed, a supervisor does have to come down and make sure it warrants further action.”

Melissa Daniels contributed to this report. Megan Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5815 or mharris@tribweb.com.

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