ST. PAUL, Minn. – A U.S. District Judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a black teacher in the St. Paul school district who alleges administrators retaliated against him for criticizing the district’s ineffective, race-based school discipline policies.
U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson denied a motion by St. Paul Public Schools to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Aaron Benner, a black former teacher at John A. Johnson Elementary, who sued the district in May after the St. Paul Department of Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity found probable cause the district violated his rights, the Twin Cities Pioneer Press reports.
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Benner quit in August 2015 after a series of district investigations that coincided with him speaking out against the district’s race-based school discipline policies that he and other teachers claim are encouraging bad behavior, especially among black students.
The “restorative justice” discipline policies are a result of a push by the Obama administration to force school districts to address a disproportionate percentage of minority students suspended from school for bad behavior.
Instead of suspension, the “restorative justice” approach involves talking circles, counseling, and other ineffective solutions that result in unruly students sent back to class, where they continue to disrupt the education of the classmates.
The restorative justice approach also aligns with white privilege teacher trainings in St. Paul and numerous other school districts that center on the philosophy that public education is hopelessly stacked against black and other minority students, and the only way white teachers can address the problem is to repent for their race and cater their teaching to black culture.
Many of the white privilege teacher trainings are conducted by Pacific Educational Group, or PEG. St. Paul schools have spent more than $3 million with PEG, and the result has been a general state of chaos in schools, where students realize there’s no real consequence for their actions.
Benner raised issues with the race-based discipline at school board meetings in 2011 and again in 2014, as well as on national news networks. Other teachers, including some who have been assaulted by students, have spoken out, as well.
The St. Paul NAACP’s Joel Franklin also weighed in this spring, alleging that the district’s treatment of Benner after his complaints “is going to hamper any efforts to recruit other African-American teachers,” the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports.
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“The students of SPPS are being used in some sort of social experiment where they are not being held accountable for their behavior,” Benner wrote in a 2015 editorial for the Press. “This is only setting our children up to fail in the future, especially our black students. Who would conduct such an experiment on our kids? I blame the San Francisco-based consulting firm, Pacific Educational Group (PEG).
“PEG was hired by SPPS in 2010 to help close the achievement gap. PEG makes no secret of the fact that its prescription for closing the gap is based on the Critical Race Theory. This theory argues that racism is so ingrained in the American way of life – its economy, schools, and government – that things must be made unequal in order to compensate for that racism.
“PEG pushes the idea that black students are victims of white school policies that make it difficult or impossible for them to learn. So, when a black student is disruptive, PEG, as I see it, stresses that it’s not their fault.”
Benner has since taken a new position at a private school in St. Paul.
On Wednesday, attorneys for the school district argued that the alleged retaliation against Benner for speaking up about the problem did not constitute “extreme conduct,” and alleged he could have transferred to a different school, the Press reports.
“He didn’t need to quit his employment in order to address the things that were there,” school attorney Sarah Bushnell told the court.
Reid Goldetsky, Benner’s lawyer, countered that the district’s “trumped-up charges” against Benner after his criticisms came from top administrators in the district, and switching schools would not have changed the situation.
“This was coming down from the highest of SPPS,” he said. “This was the administration, superintendent. This goes much higher than the administration at his school. Transfer would not have solved the problem.”
Nelson ruled that Benner’s lawsuit against the district can proceed, but urged both parties to reach a settlement.
“You make very compelling arguments about why this may not succeed long term,” the judge told Bushnell, perhaps signaling Benner would be unlikely to win the lawsuit.
Benner, meanwhile, has vowed to push forward.
“I’m confident that justice will prevail,” he told the news site. “I’m in it for the long haul.”
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