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Big Brothers Big Sisters defends, but will change interview questions for mentors at Pittsburgh schools | TribLIVE.com
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Big Brothers Big Sisters defends, but will change interview questions for mentors at Pittsburgh schools

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Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
A Big Sister reads with her ‘little’ at McKee Elementary in Jeannette as part of the new Lunch Buddies program on Tuesday, March 22, 2016. Lunch Buddies, through Big Brothers Big Sisters, is piloting the program in Jeannette and Uniontown school districts.

The Pittsburgh chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters will soon stop asking about the sexual orientation, religion and mental health of the potential mentors for children who receive on-site mentoring at Pittsburgh Public Schools.

The organization is making the change after school board member Moira Kaleida raised concerns that those questions could violate the district’s anti-discrimination policy, said Jan Glick, the chapter’s CEO.

Glick said the questions are not discriminatory, that the organization does not reject anyone based on them, and applicants are not required to answer them.

“We serve all populations, all walks of life, all orientations and religions,” Glick told the Trib on Wednesday. “There is no qualifier at all to that.”

Kaleida did not return calls and emails seeking comment.

Glick is concerned the ordeal could cause the organization to lose donations and volunteers. There are currently more than 250 children in the area, mostly boys, in need of mentors, she said.

Glick said the questions are not asked to eliminate potential mentors, but rather to match them with a child who is going through a similar experience in order to strengthen the bond. A mentor who shares during the interview that he or she struggles with depression or anxiety, for example, may be matched with a kid who struggles with similar issues, Glick said.

“We just had a young boy, this is not the first time, who’s a freshman at one of the schools we serve, and he just came out,” Glick said. “He’s having trouble in his community, with his church and family understanding this. He requested a gay man who has been through this to give participatory guidance he needs and the friendship and understanding he needs.”

Without asking the questions, the organization can’t make those types of matches, Glick said.

The organization plans to take the questions off the interview questionnaire for mentors that could be paired with the roughly 500 children in the school-based program in Pittsburgh Public Schools, Glick told the Trib. The rest of the roughly 1,000 children the organization serves either attend other school districts or are in a different program where the mentor visits occur off school properties.

School district solicitor Ira Weiss said he requested written confirmation from Glick that the organization will stop asking the questions. Once he receives that, he will provide a recommendation to the school board on whether that satisfied the discrimination concern.

Theresa Clift is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Theresa at 412-380-5669, [email protected] or via Twitter @tclift.

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