It’s a plot you might see in a student theater production: A young white high school drama teacher on the way home from a long day stops to witness the arrest of a black man. Police tell her to move along; this is not your business.
The teacher, Crystal Spring, whose students perform self-written plays on social justice issues, continues to monitor the arrest to make sure the man’s rights are not violated. Police arrest the teacher for obstruction and disorderly conduct. The witnesses against her are three black employees of a fast-food restaurant, where the call to report the man originated.
While in the squad car, handcuffed next to the man she sought to protect, the man predicts the teacher would be let go because she is white. Instead, she is jailed, later placed on administrative leave and faced a likely firing.
Until Tuesday afternoon, when in advance of a planned rally at a school board meeting, Michael Thomas, Minneapolis Public Schools interim superintendent, issued the following statement:
“Crystal Spring has been removed from administrative leave and will be receiving an apology from all of us. It is imperative to be thorough when recommending the termination of an employee, and due diligence was not followed in this case. We will review our termination processes and are committed to making all necessary changes to prevent this from happening in the future.”
“It’s kind of a tragic comedy here,” said Jordan Kushner, Spring’s attorney.
Spring, a Washburn High School drama teacher and creator of the school’s lauded Black Box Theatre program, was arrested May 19 by police in south Minneapolis after she stopped to witness the altercation. Police say Spring ignored orders to move away, ran in the streets and yelled at officers. She spent the night in jail.
The Minneapolis Public Schools administration is normally about as nimble and fleet-footed as a team of oxen, but this time Steven Barrett, executive director of HR operations at MPS, quickly took the police report as gospel. In a letter, Barrett said the district was moving to fire Spring “ … due to concerns relating to conduct unbecoming a teacher.”
The letter continued: “You did not know the circumstances of why the police were taking someone into custody. Yet you determined that repeatedly confronting the police officers, and shouting accusations about the officers to potential witnesses to the police investigation, was necessary.”
Except Kushner said that didn’t happen. He said Spring twice obeyed orders to move and was only exercising her right to observe an incident between police and a citizen.
The Minneapolis school board was set to abruptly determine Spring’s fate at Tuesday’s board meeting, but an uprising of support from students and parents caused it to take the issue off the agenda and instead put Spring on administrative leave while the criminal case plays out. That effectively prohibited Spring from participating in leadership and racial equity training this summer and jeopardized her teaching career.
Until the Tuesday apology from Thomas.
Spring spoke through tears about how much her classes and students meant to her.
“This is my life’s calling,” Spring said Tuesday. “My students inspire me to get up every day. They fill me with life. I need to live my convictions and be a role model.”
A police report of the incident argues she was not being a good role model. Spring “was told numerous times to not follow officers and stop interrupting officers while officers were making an arrest,” the report said. When she refused, she was arrested.
Marietta Marie Green was listed as one of three witnesses on the report. I asked Green if she thought Spring was interfering with police.
“Yes, I do,” she said before hanging up.
Kushner, however, said the witnesses are conflicted because they called police. They also don’t likely understand Spring’s rights. Courts have overwhelmingly decided that citizens have every right to observe police behavior and even criticize police during an arrest. He said Spring did not even take photos or videos because she wasn’t sure it was legal. He was confounded by the administration’s accusation that her behavior was unbecoming a teacher, particularly when it was outside school responsibilities.
“I find it completely outrageous on all levels,” Kushner said.
“What shocked me was the district’s response. It’s fairly disgusting they were not aware of her civil rights.”
After learning of Thomas’ apology, Kushner replied: “Well, they are totally backing off. Amazing. It’s good to know a big bureaucracy can admit it made a mistake.”
“I have an amazing community,” Spring said Tuesday. “I’m focused on their help and support. I have students who deal with this kind of thing every day. I want to thank everybody for standing behind me. I hope that for everyone this can be a learning experience and we can come away from this stronger citizens.”
Follow Jon on Twitter: @jontevlin
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