Pittsburgh, PA – The Pittsburgh Public Schools board has rejected a proposal to arm the school district’s police officers.
In an eight-to-one vote on Wednesday night, school board officials voted to leave the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ 22-member police force unarmed, WPXI reported.
The seven board members who voted against the proposal said that bringing guns into the schools was an unnecessary risk, according to the news outlet.
“The belief for many of us is that it's just not needed. So we'll vote accordingly tonight,” Pittsburgh Public School Board President Dr. Regina Holley said during the meeting. “The proximity to city police, in the city, is much different than it is in the suburban areas.”
District Police Chief George Brown had requested the policy change earlier this month, noting that the police force had undergone proper training and should be allowed to carry firearms as they work to protect students and faculty.
Some school board members disagreed, and said the officers should be able to handle potentially dangerous situations at the schools without having to use firearms.
“I think that officers who feel so threatened that they cannot de-escalate and handle situations presented by school students should seriously consider, perhaps, another line of work,” board member Sala Udin said during the meeting, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Board member Kevin Carter said that arming officers would “drastically change the climate” of the school environment, and claimed it would “increase the stress and trauma related to that stress of the students that we are there to educate,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, board member Moira Kaleida raised concerns that seeing armed police officers could have a negative impact on students “of color” and those with disabilities.
Cynthia Falls was the only board member who voted in favor of arming the district’s police force.
“A safe learning environment is a prerequisite before any learning can take place,” Falls said during the meeting. “Our trained school police have earned our respect … and have the right to go home safely to their families every night.”
Seventy-five people showed up to the meeting to speak out against arming the schools’ police force, and no one spoke in favor of the proposal, WPXI reported.
Holley said she supported Chief Brown’s desire to keep students safe, but said she believes there are other ways to accomplish such a goal without guns.
“The suburban schools have it, but that doesn't mean we have to have it as well," she said. “He cares about the children, he cares about the staff, he wants everyone to be safe. However, we have a different view on how that should actually be done.”
Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers spokesperson Bill Hileman said that the proposal was especially intended to provide better security for events, and to provide an additional tool to the mobile police unit that responds to incidents throughout the district.
“It’s about the safety of our children,” Hileman said.
“Our vote tonight does not mean we are not supportive of our security staff,” Holley said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Our vote tonight will be one in which we are telling our security staff, ‘Continue doing the work that you’re doing,’ but for me it does not mean I'm going to let you strap a gun to your side.”