ST. PAUL, Minn. – The violent and dangerous climate in the St. Paul school district has convinced the teachers union that a strike may be necessary to force the school board to address the situation.
The threatened strike is the direct result of an incident last Friday at St. Paul’s Central High School, where a teacher was hospitalized with a concussion and brain injury after he tried to break up a fight between several students and was attacked by them.
That was just the latest in a recurring pattern of violent incidents involving students – particularly black students – in the district.
In a statement released yesterday, St. Paul Federation of Teachers President Denise Rodriguez said, “Tonight, our union has filed a petition for state mediation. This step is required by state law to trigger our teachers’ right to strike. Teachers don’t want to walk away from their classrooms or their students but if our school climates are not safe and equitable environments for learning, that is a step our members may need to take. We can wait no longer.”
Many believe the student-related violence in the district is the direct result of policies that discourage out-of-school suspensions, or other forms of meaningful punishment, particularly for black students.
Many believe the “hands off ” policy toward students is the result of the district’s contractual relationship with the Pacific Educational Group (PEG), a California non-profit that believes the American educational system is based on the white cultural norms, and is designed to benefit white students, to the detriment of minority students.
PEG officials say the situation is the result of “white privilege,” and their organization contracts with schools around the nation to combat the perceived problem.
One tactic has been to greatly decrease out-of-school suspensions for black students, because they had been receiving a disproportionate number of those suspensions in St. Paul and many other districts across the nation.
But that policy, embraced in recent years by St. Paul school administrators, has led to a more general policy of few repercussions for violent or unruly behavior on the part of black students, according to various sources.
Student suspensions were replaced by “time outs,” and school officials starting forgiving or ignoring violence and other unacceptable behavior, according to published reports.
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.
“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.
In her written statement, Rodriguez did not address the district’s relationship with PEG, but made it clear that the union has tried to address disciplinary policies and the violent climate with district administrators, and is not satisfied with the response.
“This year has been marked by too many instances of assaults on students, teachers and other staff members in the halls and classrooms of our schools,” she wrote. “We will not wait any longer for action by our district’s administrators.”
Earlier this year, former St. Paul teacher Aaron Benner drew national attention when he publicly accused school administrators of fostering the violent environment by maintaining a non-responsive policy toward disciplinary issues involving black students.
“When you have to discipline a student of color, you know you’re going to be questioned by an administrator,” Benner, who is black, told EAGnews. “So you just keep that kid in the classroom and try to keep a safe classroom. There’s no learning being done.
“In 2011 I was punched by a black boy.The principal brought him back to the classroom 10 minutes later. No write up, no nothing. I was like, ‘What, are you serious?'”
Benner specifically blamed the district’s relationship with PEG for the problems.
“As a black man I can say that they are hurting black kids,” Benner told EAGnews. “I’ve never seen anything as idiotic as PEG. Everything we do, PEG is at the forefront.
“It’s so comical. PEG says shouting out in class is a black cultural norm, and being on time is a white cultural thing. It’s so demeaning, so condescending to black kids. If a white person were making claims like this, black people would be in an uproar.
“You are not doing kids any favors by making excuses for them because they are black. It’s not a matter of culture if you’re talking about norms that all cultures need to abide by. You cannot throw things or attack your teacher, regardless of your race.”
Last week’s incident at Central High School that resulted in the injuries to the teacher was described in detail by TwinCities.com.
“At Central on Friday, 16-year-old Fon’Tae O’Bannon had joined in a fight that began in the lunchroom between two other males, according to the criminal complaint filed Tuesday in Ramsey County Juvenile Court. When a teacher and administrator tried to stop the fight, O’Bannon allegedly lashed out.
“Witnesses saw O’Bannon throw science teacher John Ekblad against a wall and onto a table, according to the criminal complaint. O’Bannon then choked the teacher as he lay on the ground until he lost consciousness, the charges said.
“When assistant principal Mark Krois arrived, O’Bannon threw him into a wall, the complaint said.
“As the assistant principal was trying to pull O’Bannon off the injured teacher, O’Bannon’s 15-year-old brother yelled profanities at the principal and punched him several times in the chest, according to a police report.
“O’Bannon is charged with felony assault, gross misdemeanor assault and obstructing the legal process.
“The 15-year-old, who was identified in the complaint as FO but whose name has not been released because of his age, was charged Monday in juvenile court with fourth-degree assault and obstructing the legal process.
“When the school resource officer went to help Krois, the principal told him to help Ekblad, who had been hurt, the charges said ‘The officer went to find Ekblad, but ‘O’Bannon charged at the officer,’ the complaint said. ‘The (officer) grabbed O’Bannon’s arm but had a hard time controlling him. O’Bannon continued to struggle, told the officer to ‘get the (expletive) out of my face’ and attempted to run away.’
“The officer called for backup and O’Bannon was arrested. ‘O’Bannon began to laugh,’ the criminal complaint said. He denied he had assaulted any staff.
“Ekblad was hospitalized and diagnosed with a concussion and traumatic brain injury.”
The teacher has since been released from the hospital, according to media reports.