Concerns around safety in the St. Paul Public Schools flared anew Wednesday when it was discovered that a student brought a loaded handgun into a Harding Senior High School classroom.
The gun never left the student’s backpack, and was recovered by staff during a search for marijuana, which also was found, Principal Doug Revsbeck said. He added: “As far as we know, there was no intent to use the weapon in the building.”
But while no threats were made to students or staff, Superintendent Valeria Silva summoned reporters to district headquarters to speak about the handgun’s discovery — saying the incident was “alarming” — and to answer questions about recent fights at Como Park and Humboldt high schools.
“It’s a pretty sad day for me as a superintendent of St. Paul Public Schools to be standing here and talking about issues of violence,” Silva said.
She wanted to assure students, families and district employees, she said, that “safety is a priority,” and she called on the community to unite behind efforts to help children and families dealing with outside pressures that they may carry with them into the schools.
Questions about safety and the district’s perceived leniency toward students who misbehave have lingered in the state’s second-largest school system.
At Como Park High, Roy Magnuson, a social studies teacher who witnessed a Sept. 24 brawl outside the school that was described by police as a “riot,” noted that the fights have continued. Principal Theresa Neal acknowledged another six this week.
Said Magnuson, “We have a segment of kids who consider themselves untouchable.”
Silva denied that district policies have contributed to the troubles. District spokeswoman Toya Stewart Downey, asked later if the superintendent created a culture in which some students believed they could get away with anything, also rejected the premise. She pointed to penalties outlined in the student behavior handbook as evidence.
Three years ago, the district removed “continual willful disobedience” from the list of suspendable violations in that document. But on the subject of possession or use of a firearm, it states clearly that there is to be “zero tolerance,” and it requires the principal to notify police and refer the student for expulsion.
Revsbeck, in a letter to families Wednesday, wrote that police were investigating the incident at Harding.
Also Wednesday, a Como Park teacher was hurt when responding to a fight that started between two students and ultimately involved six more, and police had to use a Taser on a disruptive student at Central High School.
Central Principal Mary Mackbee, who has been with the district for 47 years, said it was not unusual for students to act out at the start of a year, and to settle down as it progresses.
The district has no plans to deploy additional personnel in response to ongoing fights, Stewart Downey said. But it does plan to train staff members on how to de-escalate a situation so it doesn’t involve more students, said Jackie Turner, the district’s chief engagement officer.
To those who may call for students to be kicked out of school, Turner added: “You’re not going to hear that from me.”