Two students face felony assault charges in the beating this week of a Como Park High School teacher, a video of which went viral on social media and prompted a familiar conversation about race and discipline.
The students, both 16, have been charged with third-degree assault, a felony that carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of $10,000, in the beating of Mark Rawlings, who teaches technology at the school. The Star Tribune generally doesn’t name juvenile suspects.
According to the charges, the two, who were not students of Rawlings, entered the classroom while class was in session and ignored his demands that they leave. When he tried to escort them out, one punched him on the chin, while the second punched him in the right eye. All three landed on the ground, spilling out into the hallway. Rawlings told police that when he hit his head he briefly lost consciousness.
Video shows the two teens entering Rawlings’ classroom and spilling out the door shortly thereafter. The school’s assistant principal told police they learned that the two entered the classroom to assault another student over a marijuana transaction gone bad. The student said he expected one of the students to come looking for him and said that although he was in the classroom, he was wearing headphones and didn’t see or hear the assault.
Rawlings, who was briefly hospitalized, suffered a concussion and needed staples to close a wound in his head, the complaint said.
The incident also drew criticism from several groups, including the St. Paul chapter of Black Lives Matter, which called on school officials to take action to improve the school’s racial climate.
BLM leader Rashad Turner also pushed Como Park to put special education teacher Theo Olson on leave after Olson posted Facebook comments about student misbehavior that Turner called racist. Olson was placed on leave with pay on Wednesday.
On Friday evening, about 50 Olson supporters, including dozens of teachers, family members and friends, gathered at the Original Gabe’s by the Park bar in St. Paul. Many wore buttons saying, “I support Theo.”
Social studies teacher Roy Magnuson, who has been at the school for more than two decades, said in an interview that he didn’t feel Olson’s comments were inappropriate.
“I believe an injustice is being done,” he said. “We are looking at a Facebook post that is honest, reflecting life without identifying [students] or breaking confidentiality.”
Magnuson said he blames administrators for failing to discipline minority students because of concerns about racial inequalities. Students then get a sense they’re untouchable and act out in dangerous ways, he said.
Several Como teachers who asked not to be named said Olson has widespread support within the school but that because of what happened to him, they worry that fewer people now will be willing to criticize the district.
“It’s going to chill speech,” Magnuson said. “And what’s really sad is our district has been telling us that they want us to have courageous conversations. But if a courageous conversation means that you’re going to be thrown under the bus, we’re going to have a lot of people sitting with their arms folded saying nothing.”
Olson’s wife, Karen, was at the rally. “He never got to say goodbye to his students,” she said.