ST. PAUL, Minn. – Have the taxpayers of St. Paul spent nearly $3 million over the past five years to bring chaos and danger to their schools and students?
In 2010, the St. Paul school district began a contractual relationship with the Pacific Educational Group, a San Francisco-based organization that tries to help public schools deal with achievement and disciplinary issues involving black students.
PEG packages and sells the concept of victimization, for a very high price.
It claims that the American education system is built around white culture, tradition and social norms – aka “white privilege” – to the unfair detriment of black students.
PEG believes that black students will only achieve if school curricula are customized to meet their cultural specifications. It also rejects the concept of using suspensions or expulsions to discipline black students.
The relationship with PEG has been costly for the St. Paul district, in more ways than one.
According to information provided by the district to EAGnews through a freedom of information request, St. Paul schools spent at least the following amounts on PEG consultations services over the past five years:
* $137,720 in 2010-11,
* $366,800 in 2011-12,
* $598,900 in 2012-13,
* $489,150 in 2013-14 and
* $285,895 in 2014-15.
The district also reported spending “matched amounts” of $132,072 (2010-11), $363,260 (2011-12) and $537,900 (2012-13) on PEG, without explaining what that term means.
Not long after PEG started working with St. Paul school officials, crucial policy changes were made, according to various news reports.
Special needs students with behavioral issues were mainstreamed into regular classrooms, a position openly advocated by PEG.
Student suspensions were replaced by “time outs,” and school officials starting forgiving or ignoring violence and other unacceptable behavior, according to various sources.
“The disciplinary changes came out of meetings with an organization called Pacific Educational Group, a San Francisco-based operation that has been consulting with the district dating back to 2010,” the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
The result has been general chaos throughout the district, with far too many students out of control because they know there are no real consequences for their actions.
A local publication called CityPages recently told the story of Becky McQueen, an educator at St. Paul’s Harding High School.
“Last spring, when she stepped into a fight between two basketball players, one grabbed her shoulder and head, throwing her aside,” the CityPages article explained. “The kid was only sent home for a couple of days.
“In March, when a student barged into her class, McQueen happened to be standing in the doorway and got crushed into a shelf. The following week, two boys came storming in, hit a girl in the head, then skipped back out. One of them had already been written up more than 30 times.
“Yet another student who repeatedly drops into her class has hit kids and cursed at an aide, once telling McQueen he would “fry” her ass. She tried to make a joke of it — ‘Ooh, I could use a little weight loss.’ Her students interjected: ‘No, that means he’s gonna kill you.'”
McQueen now has her students use a secret knock on the classroom door, so she will know who to allow in, the article said.
“There are those that believe that by suspending kids we are building a pipeline to prison. I think that by not, we are,” McQueen told CityPages. “I think we’re telling these kids you don’t have to be on time for anything, we’re just going to talk to you. You can assault somebody and we’re gonna let you come back here.”
There are similar horror stories from many other school buildings in the district, according to CityPages:
At John A. Johnson Elementary on the East Side, several teachers, who asked to remain anonymous, describe anything but a learning environment. Students run up and down the hallways, slamming lockers and tearing posters off the walls. They hit and swear at each other, upend garbage cans under teachers’ noses.
Nine teachers at Ramsey Middle School have quit since the beginning of this school year. Some left for other districts. Others couldn’t withstand the escalating anarchy.
In mid-April, staff at Battle Creek Elementary penned a letter to their principal over “concerns about building wide safety, both physical and emotional, as well as the deteriorating learning environment.”
A week later, the principal announced that he would be transferred next year.
One despondent teacher told CityPages, “We have students who will spend an hour in the hallway just running and hiding from people, like it’s a game for them. A lot of them know no one is going to stop them, so they just continue.”
The families of the district have clearly had enough.
Over the past four years, as PEG has cast its influence in St. Paul, the number of students living in the district but attending non-district schools, has increased from about 9,000 to 12,000, according to Joe Nathan, executive director of the Minneapolis-based Center for School Change.
Two-thirds of those students come from low income families, or families of color, so it’s not just a typical case of “white flight,” Nathan said.
“The most basic thing our schools must offer is the safety of the children,” Nathan told the Star Tribune. “A significant number of families are saying their children do not feel safe in the schools. They don’t feel safe even going to the bathroom.”
The situation came to a head in April when members of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, who organized under the name “Caucus for Change,” convinced the powerful Democratic Farm Labor Party to withhold its endorsement from three incumbent school board members who had planned to seek another term in the November election.
The three, who have supported the superintendent’s relaxed disciplinary policies, will reportedly not run without the party endorsement. The party has endorsed four new candidates to fill the upcoming vacancies on the board.
That means the St. Paul school district will likely have four new members on its seven member school board, and perhaps the new majority will do something to restore discipline, order and sanity to the schools.
But what about the district’s relationship with PEG? Will officials continue to waste taxpayer dollars on an organization that pushes policies that destroy any hope for creating or maintaining a productive learning environment?
As one recently published story on better-ed.org put it, “Given the recent (and probably ongoing) turmoil in St. Paul Public Schools, it’s time to ask questions about Pacific Educational Group.”