Disgust, outrage and anger: Parents, teachers give Pittsburgh board an earful over school violence

PITTSBURGH — It has been a volatile week for Pittsburgh Public Schools. On Wednesday, 15-year-old Marquis Campbell was murdered while sitting on a school van outside of Pittsburgh Oliver Citywide Academy. On Thursday, two staff members were injured during a brawl with several students and on Friday, a student was left unconscious and hospitalized after a horrific beating that was caught on camera.

Pittsburgh Public Schools held a public comment session Monday night.  Parents, teachers and some Pittsburgh Public staff made it clear to the school board that they don’t feel safe sending their kids to school or showing up for work. Their scathing letters were read publicly by members of the board.

“As my son who goes to Brashear leaves in the morning, I say be vigilant, watch your back and remember your escape plan if things get bad,” Maria Vondas said in her written testimony.

Vondas is a parent to a PPS student and a staff member herself. She added, “how many students and employees are going to be injured, hospitalized, suffer trauma or be murdered before we address our collective basic needs?”

A teacher at Brashear High School, Kristen Johnson, also wrote a letter to the board that read, “I’m disgusted. I’m disgusted that our district has experienced heinous acts of violence including the death of a 15 year-old student.” Johnson continued by writing, “I’m outraged we continue as business as usual after the death of a student, staff injuries from breaking up a fight and another young adult in the hospital because of a fight.”

Parents say more counselors and mental health resources are needed. Some argue that students aren’t being held accountable.

“Students know they don’t have consequences,” Stephanie Miller said.  “I’ve heard with my own two ears kids say I don’t give an *expletive* — nothing is going to happen to me.”

This surge in violence comes as the ACLU in Pennsylvania reports that some districts, including Pittsburgh Public Schools, “regularly” underreport student arrests to the public. The report says Allegheny County is a hot spot for student arrests and PPS is one of the districts that “played outsized roles in driving the county’s high rates of justice system involvement for students.”

On Monday, Channel 11 also learned that the student seen on camera brutally beating another teen at Brashear High School will face criminal charges. It’s not clear if he’ll be charged as an adult or juvenile.