A new St. Paul student group grabbed headlines earlier this year with a survey that presented student perceptions of school resource officers (SROs) — cops in the schools.
The splash could’ve been even bigger had the district not prevented the SPPS Student Engagement and Advancement Board from asking its most pointed question:
Should the officers be in the schools at all?
By school year’s end, however, student leaders met with police and district officials to promote changes in the SRO contract. The final pact had new accountability measures, including a requirement that police document officer-student interactions — both good and bad.
The school board also invited the group to occupy two nonvoting seats alongside the board during public meetings at the start of this school year.
A week ago, the group, charged with giving voice to students in district decisionmaking, released the results of its latest survey and focus group sessions. The survey’s goal: to determine how safe, respected and welcome various groups of students feel, and to recommend ways to make schools more inclusive.
St. Paul has a gender inclusion policy designed in part to ensure transgender students feel safe and welcome. Of the 2,568 students who responded to the survey, 37 identified themselves as transgender and 59 as gender nonconforming, and according to the results, 55 percent said they’d been made to feel “they do not belong in class because of their identity” at least once this year, student engagement board leaders said.
The findings also showed that students of color were nearly twice as likely to feel excluded from programs, classes, clubs and leadership opportunities than their white counterparts.
Serena Jing, a Central High senior, said teachers will at times call on her in class when the subject of China or Asia comes up. She said some people may see that as an effort to promote inclusion, but it can be alienating, too. Students in that position can think: “Why am I so different from everyone else in this class?” she told the school board.
According to the survey, 171 students said they’d been asked this year to “speak on behalf of their identity” seven or more times this year.
The group is recommending increased training for students and staff to combat such “microaggressions.”
The case against Ramsey
A proposal with the potential of generating wider attention in the future is a call for the board to craft a policy prohibiting and reversing the naming of facilities after people who have violated human rights through “enslavement, internment or genocide.”
Asked for an example last week, group members pointed to Ramsey Middle School. It is named after Alexander Ramsey, who the Minnesota Historical Society has noted had “notoriously” stated that “the Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the state.”
About 11 percent of survey respondents hailed from Ramsey Middle School.
School Board Member Zuki Ellis said that she had looked into the matter, and learned that the board has the authority to change a school’s name.
“Obviously, with some engagement around that,” interjected board Chairman Jon Schumacher.
The board is expected to take a closer look at the group’s recommendations in a committee meeting early next year.