The St. Paul school district again is seeking dismissal of a federal lawsuit that alleged it retaliated against a teacher for publicly criticizing its discipline policies.
Aaron Benner, who is black, argued in meetings and interviews between the 2011-12 and 2014-15 school years that St. Paul was failing its black students by not holding them accountable for disruptive behavior.
The district’s push for dismissal was filed in U.S. District Court on Friday, just days after President Donald Trump’s school safety commission suggested Obama-era guidance to lower suspension rates of students of color had the potential of making schools more dangerous.
The 35-page court document makes only brief mention of the policy differences that won Benner local and national media attention after he and several other teachers spoke out at a highly charged board meeting about four years ago.
“[The school district] disputes that it disciplines students differently based on race or skin color,” the court filing states.
The document serves, instead, as a more detailed version of the argument first advanced by the district a year ago: that Benner has failed to prove he was a victim of adverse action by the district when he resigned in August 2015 to take a charter school position.
Benner, then a veteran elementary schoolteacher, left the district after a series of personnel investigations during the 2014-15 school year that he claimed were payback for critical comments he made during a May 2014 school board meeting.
He sued the district in May 2017 after a St. Paul human rights department investigation found probable cause to believe that racial discrimination and retaliation had occurred, and after the two sides were unable to negotiate a settlement.
A federal judge allowed the case to proceed but cautioned when the district first tried to have it tossed that the school system had presented “very compelling arguments about why this may not succeed long term,” Friday’s court filing states.
Extensive depositions followed.
In its new motion, the district acknowledges that Benner still disputes some of the findings made by the district when it investigated him four times.
But, it added, there was no evidence that his “career opportunities, compensation or duties changed in any way after the investigations and write-ups. Just the opposite,” the filing states. The district said that it was granting him a transfer he requested, that he landed a charter school job that its principal thought he’d “be perfect for” and that he later was hired as an administrator earning higher pay at Cretin-Derham Hall.
On Monday, Benner said: “I’m looking forward to my day in court. I trust the judicial process.”
A hearing on the district’s motion to dismiss the case is set for Feb. 1.