Last week a teacher at St. Paul Central High School was brutally beaten when he tried to help to break up a fight between two students arguing about football. The teacher was slammed into a concrete wall, then the student picked the teacher up by his neck in a strangulation hold before slamming him onto a cafeteria chair and table. The student then got on top of the teacher and started choking him, according to the charges.. The teacher suffered a traumatic brain injury and concussion.
Since the incident, teachers in the SPPS district are threatening to strike and are asking for Valeria Silva to step down.
The reason teachers are demanding the resignation of Silva and threatening to strike is because their hands have been tied with regard to discipline for a couple of years now. Instead of suspending or expelling students for bad behavior they are now given a time out.
At the same time, discipline policies were substantially changed. School suspensions were replaced by five-minute “timeouts” for those acting up in classrooms. The disciplinary changes came out of meetings with an organization called Pacific Education Group, a San Francisco-based operation that has been consulting with the district dating back to 2010.
PEG’s goal is to convene conversations about difficult issues surrounding race. It has collected more than $1 million for its work with the district, but Nathan points out that much of that work has only created more frustration in St. Paul. At one point, the organization set up meetings to discuss “white privilege” with teachers and parents. “OK, white privilege,” Nathan said. “Now that we’ve acknowledged there’s such a thing, what should we do about it? What’s the response? Help us here. But there was no response.”
In the wake of the dramatic changes in discipline and mainstreaming, Silva admitted that perhaps so much should not have been done so quickly. The admission, however, came long after large numbers of parents and teachers said that the changes had fundamentally changed the culture of St. Paul schools and, in many cases, made teaching and learning extremely difficult.
By that point, things had moved passed “messy.” Nowhere more so than at Ramsey Middle School, where the five-minute timeouts were not working in an environment of fighting, swearing and general disrespect. This past fall, nine teachers quit their jobs.
We live in Mac Groveland which means my daughter would have to go to Ramsey Junior High (Ramsey feeds into Central). Last spring I put my daughter on the waiting for Highland Jr High, not much better reputation than Ramsey but it wasn’t Ramsey – a school that was notorious bad behavior. I spent most of the summer checking with the school district to see if there had been any movement on the list. I had put all my eggs into the basket of Highland because my son graduated from the Highland High School. He was in the IB program and did very well for himself, I had the same hopes for my daughter.
It was not to be, there were too many children on the waiting list and she did not make the cut. When school started she began her very short career at Ramsey Jr High.
On the first day she was hit in the face with a pencil meant for someone else. She would be repeatedly kicked or shoved in the hallway. The aggression was not necessary aimed at her, it was just such a madhouse she was in the crossfire of students yelling, bickering, fighting, or all out attacking each other.
I picked her up early one afternoon to go to a doctor’s appointment and was harassed as I walked down the sidewalk by the playground. Words such as “fucking bitch” were used to address me to retrieve a ball that had been kicked over the 8 foot high fencing. I was so stunned by this behavior but even more so by the lack of reaction or retribution for the bad behavior by the teachers who were out monitoring (and within earshot) the playground activities.
When I signed my daughter out I mentioned the incident to the ladies in the office. One of them literally dragged me through the halls insisting that I report the behavior to the principal. As if I could make a change.
I talked with the principal who explained to me that as a white woman of privilege she was unable to speak to the cultural barriers in place (whatever the heck that means). I realized that she was more interested in making excuses than doing anything about the bad behavior and pulled my daughter out of the school the next day.
I understand now that the principal’s hands were tied due to Superintendent Silva’s belief in Solutions not Suspensions – a policy of sorts put in place to prevent children of color from being suspended or expelled disproportionately from their white counterparts. Basically we no longer suspend or expel children who behave badly, we give them a five minute time out.
The schools are madhouses. Children have no respect for authority, teachers or other students (and certainly not for themselves). When there are no consequences for bad behavior it is no wonder that teachers (and students) are getting hurt.
My daughter attended Ramsey for 12 days. I spent two and a half weeks finding another slightly less chaotic school for her to attends and that is not going well either. My daughter is terrified to go to school. I’m not expert, but I’m pretty sure it’s difficult to learn when you’re worried about getting beat up or killed because some child brought a weapon to school. Even though she only attend the school for 12 days she still managed to ace all of her classes except for gym!!!
There is so much wrong with the Saint Paul Public School district that I really hope the teachers union does strike. I will be picketing with them. I am also hopeful they can manage to remove Silva, someone who doesn’t seem to have any idea what it is like to raise a child.
Poverty doesn’t cause this sort of behavior in the schools, I would even posit that poor parenting isn’t the problem (though it is something that should be addressed). The problem is the kids know they won’t suffer any consequences for their bad behavior. Untie the teacher’s hands, stop making excuses for bad behavior, punish it and reward good behavior and you’ll probably go a long way in solving this problem.
For me and my daughter, we’re getting out of the St Paul Public Schools, my daughter’s education is far to important to wait for the SPPS to get it together.