A group of St. Paul teachers went before the school board Tuesday to air concerns about lax discipline policies — only to be drowned out by parents and minority leaders who commended the district for its racial equity work.
For several years, the district has pushed to reduce the suspensions of black students in the belief that students who are not in class cannot learn.
But Aaron Benner, a fourth-grade teacher at John A. Johnson Elementary who is black, said that the district was doing a disservice to the children by not holding them to the same standard as students from other ethnic groups.
“Refusing to work is not black culture,” he said. “Assaulting your teacher is not black culture.”
In 2012-13, the district removed “continual willful disobedience” from the list of suspendable violations in the student handbook due to criticism both locally and nationally that it was a subjective catchall that disproportionately affected minority students. The district also has contracted with a consulting firm to host “courageous conversations” encouraging staff members to examine any racial biases they may bring to their work.
Jeff Martin, president of St. Paul’s NAACP chapter, addressed the board and the standing-room-only crowd and delivered to Chairwoman Mary Doran a letter imploring the district to continue to “reduce the shameful and unlawful racial disparity in suspension rates.”
Last fall, the district also moved about 270 children who had been identified as having emotional or behavioral disorders out of self-contained “learning centers” and into mainstream classes. Benner and four other teachers who appeared before the board Tuesday said classroom teachers were not given adequate resources and support to work with the students.
On Tuesday, Superintendent Valeria Silva acknowledged that not all of the district’s changes had gone smoothly, and pledged to engage the community in future decisions.