Four teachers who say they were appalled by the St. Paul School District’s handling of a teacher accused of sexually harassing his colleagues came forward Thursday to speak out against the district and its leaders.
The teacher remains in the school system, they said at a news conference, even though their attorney, Philip Villaume, said he believes that the man should have been fired.
The criticism stems from incidents in 2015 during which the male teacher, then at Benjamin E. Mays IB World School, was accused of texting pictures of his genitalia to two female colleagues. He was disciplined but then allowed to return to the district in October 2015 at Galtier Community School.
Patricia Boyt, who teaches English language learners at Benjamin E. Mays, said Thursday that the teacher targeted vulnerable, nontenured teachers, and she believed her own advocacy on their behalf led the district to propose slashing her hours and, as of last month, to move her to another school in the fall.
The claims came on the eve of the final day of the 2017-18 school year. Boyt invoked the issues of the #MeToo movement by stating that sexual harassment in the workplace had become a sensitive and important issue in the past year, and she said such allegations should not be met with silence.
She noted, for example, that she had reached out to two superintendents — and received unsatisfactory responses.
“It is the responsibility of the St. Paul Public Schools to guide, protect and keep all teachers safe, and nontenured teachers especially must be confident that when they report incidents of any type of harassment, their district will act to protect them and not punish those who report it,” she said.
In a statement, the district denied retaliating against Boyt or any of the alleged victims — none were among the four women who spoke with reporters Thursday — and added that it believed the action taken against the teacher in 2015 was “appropriate to the findings.”
The teacher was suspended without pay for three days after the district investigated and concluded he sent “inappropriate” text messages to other teachers, including “a picture message of a highly personal nature,” according to a discipline letter written by Andrew Collins, an assistant superintendent with the district.
The teacher also was required to take part in a program about “appropriate professional boundaries.”
Two years ago, Villaume negotiated a $33,000 settlement with the district on behalf of a female teacher threatening to sue the St. Paul district. The settlement agreement — obtained by the Star Tribune via a data practices request — does not specify the allegations, but it stipulated that the district would not assign the teacher who threatened to file suit to “the same school building as the accused teacher for at least five years.”
Villaume said Thursday he was prevented legally from saying whether the settlement was related to the Benjamin E. Mays allegations.
Earlier in the day, Boyt packed items in her classroom, and she wondered, “Why is this happening to me?” she said.
She has applied for other teaching jobs in the district.
As for Boyt and the other women who stepped forward Thursday, Villaume said that he will watch to see if there is any retaliation and act accordingly.