In-class disruptions and playground altercations have made for a rough year at Ramsey Elementary School in the Anoka-Hennepin School District.
Confronted by parents about the flare-up in unruly behavior, district leaders say they are taking corrective action. But on Thursday, dozens of parents and students met outside the school to make clear there is more to be done.
The event was a “walk-in” to support teachers and staff members. No speeches were delivered, but there was a political flavor as parents toted teachers’ union signs saying, among other things, “Anoka-Hennepin students deserve leadership.”
Protesting parents cite frustration with Principal Amy Reed and with classroom management techniques they say are insufficient to halt the disruptive behavior owing in part to the move to put more special-education students in general-education classrooms.
Five years ago, St. Paul took similarly ambitious steps to mainstream special-education and English language learners and saw a rise in behavioral problems that helped sink the fortunes of then-Superintendent Valeria Silva. Teachers in St. Paul made a plea similar to that now being heard in the Anoka-Hennepin district: Give us support.
Jim Skelly, spokesman for the Anoka-Hennepin district, said this week that any criticism of Reed over the mainstreaming of special-education students is misplaced, adding that she is implementing the district’s plan.
“She is following direction,” he said of Reed, who is new to Ramsey Elementary this school year.
But Skelly acknowledges that the concerns being aired about behavioral issues at Ramsey Elementary are the “most prolonged and extensive” that he’s heard in the state’s largest district.
Parents and teachers are diligent about documenting their frustrations.
Jennifer Chicos, a district resident and parent whose niece attends Ramsey, has volunteered to gather and circulate a packet of statements — virtually all of them anonymous because of fears of retaliation by the district.
A teacher wrote of evacuating her classroom because of a student who throws chairs and flips desks. Another of that teacher’s students demolished a different room, tearing apart dividers and throwing bookcases to the ground, and when the subject of consequences came up, the teacher reported a staff member replied, “Monday is a new day. We will see you then.”
“Our parents trust us to take care of and teach their children. We are failing them,” the teacher wrote. “In a school where students know there are no consequences, have no respect for adults and that the rules are unenforceable, the morale of the staff is at its lowest and the behaviors of the students control Ramsey.”
The Star Tribune contacted the teacher and confirmed authorship of the account. The teacher asked not to be identified.
“Teachers have asked us to speak up for them,” Chicos said outside the school Thursday. “Some can’t because they have long careers ahead and still want to work in the district.”
Reports of students throwing chairs and being disruptive are a “matter of record,” Skelly said. The district’s approach is to work with anyone who has concerns about safety, including union leaders and community members.
Steps taken include having a district administrator who specializes in elementary behavior intervention provide on-site support. A Ramsey problem-solving team that includes the principal has been formed. The school also is reviewing and updating a “crisis response plan” to ensure staff members know the process for requesting help.
Kristy Westrom, a parent whose son was jumped by at least three other students at recess this month, said issues persist.
Her son was suspended for three days, she said, and when he returned to class, he was seated next to one of his attackers.
Making sure the two had been split up, she said, “was the least they could have done.”
On Thursday, Westrom was among the parents holding union signs.
As for Reed, she is the recent winner of a regional award from the Minnesota Elementary School Principals’ Association and is expected to survive the year’s unrest.
“There are no plans to make a change in leadership at Ramsey Elementary,” Skelly said.