Pittsburgh Public Schools officials on Thursday denounced part of a reading homework assignment distributed to first-graders that centered on children running away from a police officer, saying it was not an acceptable part of district curriculum.
“Tom will run. He will run from the cop,” the assignment says. “Tom will run with Rob. They will not stop.”
It ends with: “Get them! yells the cop to his dog. The dog gets Tom and Rob. Rob’s socks is wet from the pond.”
Superintendent Anthony Hamlet said in a statement that the district is investigating the assignment distributed to students at Linden Pre-K in Point Breeze, calling it inappropriate.
“The homework assignment, which has been circulated throughout social media, has justifiably caused outrage among families, staff and community,” he said. “First, let me be clear: The worksheet is not a part of any district curriculum or intervention program. Not only does the content send the wrong message to our students, but it also does not meet our expectations for student instruction.”
School District Solicitor Ira Weiss said he was told that two teachers are involved and that the administration is investigating, but he could not provide further information. He said his office is not involved in the investigation.
Nina Esposito-Visgitis, president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers and a reading specialist, said the exercise was one page in a packet of homework given to students. She said it was apparent that the teachers were schooling the kids in “short O” words, meaning words with an “O” in the middle.
Esposito-Visgitis described the incident as a mistake, but criticized its posting on social media.
“It’s very unfortunate that instead of someone asking the teachers what happened, it blew up on social media, and I mean the parents,” she said. “I’m going to go to the teachers first and ask them what happened because that’s what I think is socially appropriate to do.
“I’m not saying what was written there was appropriate,” she continued. “What was written there was disgusting. What was written there should never have been written.”
School Board President Lynda Wrenn said she believed the assignment was unintentionally given to students.
“That’s not the message we want to send to our kids,” she said. “You don’t want kids reading that they should be running from the police. It could be a matter of life and death. It’s a bad example on many levels.”
Allegheny County Police Superintendent Coleman McDonough said the homework’s message undermines police efforts to connect with communities and keep residents, particularly kids, safe.
“I found the assignment to be so utterly irresponsible and depressing I’m at a loss for words,” he said.
Robert Swartzwelder, president of Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge 1, said he was glad the district is investigating.
“You’re sort of encouraging people to resist, you’re encouraging them to engage in flight at a very young age when everyone knows that if you comply with an officer’s directives that there’s a 99.9 percent chance that nothing will happen. You don’t want to encourage anyone to flee,” he said.
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter .
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