Wave of Violence in St. Paul Schools Sparks Talk of Teacher Strike

Published February 24, 2016

Government school teachers in St. Paul, Minnesota have started proceedings to go on strike this year, citing teacher safety as one of their primary concerns; almost 30 teachers filed gross misdemeanor and felony assault charges against students in the school district in 2015.

The St. Paul Federation of Teachers, a local chapter of the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers public-sector unions, filed paperwork in December 2015 calling for negotiations with district administrators after a 16-year-old student assaulted and choked a Central High School teacher, rendering the teacher unconscious.

According to media reports, student-on-teacher violence rates in Minneapolis-St. Paul government schools doubled from 2014 to 2015.

‘A Major Problem’

Katherine Kersten, a senior fellow at the Center of the American Experiment, says student-on-teacher violence is a growing problem in government schools, and public officials have no clue how to solve it.

“It’s a major problem in St Paul’s schools,” Kersten said. “However, the superintendent is still suggesting addressing this problem by doing more of the same[, such as] another task force to study the problem and so on, instead of coming to grips with the fact that changes in the discipline policy on the district level have contributed to this rise in violence.”

Kersten says local and federal lawmakers share the blame for increasing anti-teacher violence in government schools. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Education released a report claiming minority students were disciplined with more frequency and severity than other students.

“They have greatly relaxed disciplinary standards, behavioral expectations, and penalties for misbehavior, basically along the lines of policies advocated by the Obama administration in its 2012 initiative to erase what they called the racial discipline gap in schools,” Kersten said.

Leadership and Expectations

Kersten says expanding school choice would allow students to experience real leadership from teachers, while also giving teachers more safety in the classroom.

“I think it’s really interesting to look at the success of charter schools,” Kersten said. “Many of these schools are having very substantial success with student behavior, and in many cases with academics. I think there is a certain climate of expectations that students pick up early on. If you have strong leadership in the schools, very clear behavior expectations, and penalties when students misbehave, you’re not going to have the sort of chaos and disorder we now see in St. Paul public schools.”

Sacrificing for Student Safety

Mary Clare Reim, a domestic policy studies research associate with The Heritage Foundation, says parents are willing to make sacrifices to keep their children safe in school.

“With parents who send their children to private schools, student safety is often considered their number-one priority, and it was also their number-one satisfaction with their new schools,” Reim said. “It’s definitely something parents are talking about, and it’s a major concern with a lot of these public schools. We believe school choice is the way to solve these problems, because it empowers parents to leave these environments.”

For parents concerned about school safety, Reim says education choice is a sure bet.

“This is a no-brainer, good policy,” Reim said.

Tony Corvo ([email protected]) writes from Beavercreek, Ohio.