How St. Paul school violence became a dominant issue

Mar 14, 2016 by

A Central High Student allegedly choked a science teacher until he passed out and slammed him to the floor during a lunchroom fight last December.

The topic of student violence at St. Paul schools has dominated the local landscape ever since — and after a Como High teacher was allegedly assaulted by two students this week, it’s not likely to fade away anytime soon.

HOW THE ISSUE BOILED OVER

  • After the Central High assault, criticism was immediately leveled at Superintendent Valeria Silva’s 2013 push to reduce suspensions in St. Paul schools. The reasoning? You can’t change student behavior if students aren’t in class to be taught. But teachers were already saying they were losing control of their classrooms under the policy shift.

  •  While teachers are technically allowed “reasonable force” to stop violence, the reality is murky. One of the difficulties? Districts rely on guidelines rather than direct policies when it comes to how educators should intervene when violence erupts.

  • Many St. Paul teachers have said the Central High incident left them feeling powerless, voiceless — and scared. One teacher’s letter — highlighted by Rubén Rosario — put it starkly: “Teachers feel powerless to discipline. I am not exaggerating. We are told to never under any circumstances touch a student as a behavioral intervention. … [I]f a child is running around screaming, we let them run around and scream.”

WHAT THE DATA SAY

But how much violence do Minnesota teachers, including those in St. Paul, face? We broke down the numbers. More than 6 percent of Minnesota teachers reported being physically attacked, according to the most recent data available. That’s slightly above the national average of 5.8 percent but much better than the 11.3 percent reported by the national leader: Wisconsin.

In a nutshell, the data — which is a bit tricky to compile and compare at a national level  — indicates Minnesota lags on teacher safety.

HOW TEACHERS RESPONDED

In February, the St. Paul teachers union made it clear: Their next contract with the district would absolutely need to address school climate and behavior.

The crux of their request? Staff support. St. Paul Federation of Teachers Vice President Nick Faber:

“We’re hearing from teachers left and right that there’s an issue in their room; they don’t necessarily want the kid suspended or thrown out of the room, they just need support right away.”

After weeks of intense negotiation, that’s what the teachers got in their contract:

  • $4.5 million in new spending on school climate over the next three years in the form of school-level pilot programs — six schools in 2016-17, nine the next and 12 the following year — to implement restorative practices, which emphasize relationship building over punishing students.

  • A commitment to hire the equivalent of 30 full-time counselors, social workers, nurses, psychologists and teachers of English language learners.

Union president Denise Rodriguez said the agreements on school climate were “a strong step in the right direction.” The school board will vote on the contract March 22.

WHAT COMES NEXT

The latest event at Como High will likely bring all these issues back to the forefront, especially for a school board that now has four new union-backed members.

Source: How St. Paul school violence became a dominant issue

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