ST. PAUL, Minn. – The teachers of the St. Paul school district are “scared” of some of their students and the dangerous environment in their classrooms, according to an anonymous teacher who sent a heartfelt message to a reporter from the local newspaper.
But the environment in the district may be unlikely to change any time soon. That’s because Valeria Silva, the district superintendent whose policies have been blamed for the chaos in the schools, has a new three-year contract with a big raise.
The St. Paul district has been plagued in recent years by new student disciplinary policies that seem to involve very little discipline at all. Violent or unruly students are frequently given short “time outs” to calm down, then are returned to their classrooms, according to numerous sources.
Out-of-school suspensions and expulsions have declined dramatically, particularly for black students, who in prior years received an inordinate number of those types of punishments.
The new forgiving polices were approved by Silva and the school board, in consultation with the Pacific Educational Group (PEG).
PEG officials believe that American schools are plagued with “white privilege.” That means they are based on white cultural norms for the benefit of white students, to the detriment of black students and other minorities.
PEG, which signs consulting contracts with school districts like St. Paul, counsels local school officials to compensate for racial inequity by adopting more forgiving disciplinary policies toward students, particularly black students.
The St. Paul district began working with PEG in 2010, the year after Silva assumed her position.
The lack of discipline has led to a series of frightening incidents at St. Paul schools. In the past two weeks a high school teacher and middle school teacher were physically attacked by students, and the high school teacher required hospitalization.
The St. Paul Federation of Teachers reacted to the most recent violence by threatening to strike if the school board fails to address the discipline issue.
Now more individual teachers are starting to voice their sense of hopelessness and fear.
Ruben Rosario, a reporter for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, published a column Tuesday with excerpts from a long, disturbing series of emails he received from a St. Paul elementary teacher who asked to remain anonymous due to fear of reprisal:
“Today each classroom has 5-6, if not more, of these violent, disruptive students. Daily, the talk in the lunchroom and teachers’ lounge is about how the ‘tipping point’ has arrived. We can no longer control our classes. With all the talk of test scores and raising the rigor … we just can’t do it with disruptive behaviors controlling our classrooms.
“(T)eachers feel powerless to discipline. I am not exaggerating. We are told to never under any circumstances touch a student as a behavioral intervention. We have no way to discipline. If a child is running around screaming, we let them run around and scream. If a student throws a chair at the Smart Board we remove the other students and call for help. If a student shouts obscenities, we simply use kind words to remind them to use kind words themselves. I am not kidding.
“The only consequence at the elementary level is taking away recess or sending the offending student to a ‘buddy classroom’ for a few minutes.
“Please don’t give us more staff development on racism or classroom management skills on how to de-escalate a student altercation. Engaging lessons aren’t going to help a violent or disruptive student to pay attention. These students need to be in a structured learning environment with direct small-group instruction with trained staff.
“My school is 87 percent poverty and 90 percent diverse. I have many students in my class who are very respectful, work hard and care about doing well in school. That’s why I am so angry. The disruptive, violent children are ruining the education of these fantastic, deserving children.
“Thank you again for listening. I hope this gives you some idea of the way teachers feel today … scared.”
With all of the havoc in the schools, one might expect a radical change in district leadership. That occurred to some degree last month when voters chose four new school board members to replace incumbents who were sold on the new discipline standards.
But in March the new board voted to give Silva, the superintendent, a new three-year contract, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
She will receive “a 4 percent raise, from $204,833 to $213,0126, effective Jan. 1. She also will continue to collect $11,000 per year in longevity pay in recognition of her 28 years of service in the St. Paul Public Schools,” the newspaper said.
Silva had a job review session with the school board last week, according to the Star Tribune. Board Chair Mary Doran released a statement after the meeting, saying she and her colleagues “agreed on areas of strength and opportunities for improvement and shared this feedback with (Silva),” the newspaper reported.
The statement also said the board looks forward to working with Silva toward creating a “culture of respect and appreciation throughout the organization.”
Apparently they have their work cut out for them.