Parents and activists, meanwhile, continue to push for change.

Organizers for One PA and the Education Rights Network, from left to right: Angel Gober, Pam Harbin, Paulette Foster and Tonya Moone. Photo by Ryan Rydzewski.

What are we really teaching our children?

The Education Rights Network, which last year helped convince Pittsburgh Public Schools to ban most suspensions before third grade, hopes to see the ban go even further. “If a kid is suspended for three days and then comes back, what’s going to be different?” asks Pam Harbin, an organizer with the Network. “Nothing. It’s purely punitive. If anything, suspended children fall further behind academically and are more likely to find trouble while they’re out of school.”

As for the argument that reducing or banning suspensions would disrupt other students’ education, Harbin contends it’s important to look at the bigger picture. “Even the ‘good kids’ could come in with trauma one day and need extra services,” she says. “It’s better for all kids to have mental and behavioral supports in place.” (A new study backs her up: researchers found that in Chicago Public Schools, reducing out-of-school suspensions actually led to better test scores and attendance among the student body as a whole.)

Lately, though, activists’ work has grown more complicated. In the wake of the February 14 massacre that killed 17 people in Parkland, Florida, many worry that an increased demand for policing could send even more students into the school-to-prison pipeline, despite a lack of evidence that school resource officers make for safer schools.

That’s why the Education Rights Network helped launch a new campaign, #CounselorsNotCops, and why they’re spreading the word about the Network’s services, which include know-your-rights workshops and resources for families navigating the pipeline.

At Duquesne, “a lot of the schools that our cases come from — which are usually majority black and low-income — are already heavily policed and full of metal detectors,” says Sizemore. More emphasis on policing, she fears, will compound what’s already “an over-reliance on obedience, compliance and following orders. A lot of schools already feel like juvenile justice facilities. It’s like we’ve forgotten we’re dealing with children.”

It’s this forgetting — and the consequences it heaps on Pittsburgh’s children — that drives activists to keep making signs, to keep speaking up at school board meetings, and to keep bringing parents into the battle against the pipeline.

They’ve made it their mission to make us remember.

“What happened to compassion? What happened to caring? What happened to seeing every child as a person?” asks Paulette Foster. “Look past the color. Look at the child. Let’s do what needs done to develop children as citizens — to teach them to be members of society who can one day give back.”

“Otherwise,” she says, “you’re teaching them to be inmates.”