City Controller Michael Lamb says filing truancy notices is the wrong way to go.By Andy Sheehan

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Pittsburgh Public Schools is taking students to court over truancy.

“My daughters were both straight-A students and now they are failing. They have Es on their report cards,” said Sharon Austin.

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As a mother of those two daughters at Obama Academy, Austin is distraught. Since the beginning of the school year, she says neither has been able to connect with the remote classes despite seven trips to the technology support center at the school.

“I can’t get into the account,” said Ciara Austin. “The computers won’t let me in. I can’t get to the teachers and say, ‘Hey, I’m here.’”

Like scores of other students who — for various reasons — have not been attending their remote classes, the district recently took the Austins to court for truancy. In a statement, the district says it determined there is nothing wrong with the laptops.

“We have provided support and engaged multiple times with this family and have found no problem with the district-issued technology. Any problem with connectivity is the result of user error.”

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The district could not say how many truancy citations have been sent out, but magistrates who KDKA’s Andy Sheehan talked to say they each now have dozens on their docket. The district says it tried its best to connect everyone — including parental support sessions online and at-home tech visits — but Pittsburgh Controller Michael Lamb said filing truancy notices is the wrong way to go.

“The first answer can’t be, let’s take everyone to truancy court. We have to find out what’s the real reason for that absenteeism,” Lamb said.

According to the district preliminary figures, absenteeism is up and grades are down under remote learning with more students getting Ds and Es. Lamb has been critical of the district’s rollout of technology but concedes that it’s a challenge for any district.

“The fact that we’re seeing lower grades and these problems doesn’t really come as a surprise. But one thing we’ve learned through this pandemic is that students do better in the classroom and fortunately the district is moving back,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ciara says her grades have derailed her dreams of going to college and becoming a veterinarian.

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“That was what I wanted to do with my life and now it’s destroyed,” she said.