A teacher in St. Paul, Minn. has been placed on leave and may lose his job after a Facebook post complaining about subpar discipline in his school offended Black Lives Matter activists. Meanwhile, the same day he was suspended, another teacher at the school was hospitalized after being assaulted by students.
In recent years, school safety has become a pressing issue in St. Paul. The school district has pursued a policy of avoiding the suspension or expulsion of students whenever possible, in the hopes that doing so will improve student outcomes and break the so-called “school to prison pipeline.” But critics say the policy has simply led to a surge in violence and disruption at schools, since teachers are generally powerless to enforce order in class or remove disruptive elements.
While suspensions have fallen in St. Paul, disciplinary issues have grown substantially. The city’s teachers union even took a step towards a strike in 2015 in an effort to pressure administrators into reforming disciplinary rules.
Theo Olson, a teacher at Como Park High School, took to Facebook recently to complain about the discipline (or lack thereof) at his school.
“Anyone care to explain to me the school-to-prison pipeline my colleagues and I have somehow created[?]” Olson said posted on Facebook. “Because if you can’t prove it, and campaigns you’ve waged to deconstruct adult authority in my building by enabling student misconduct, you seriously owe us real teachers an apology.”
Olson continued in another post, describing the dysfunctional state of discipline he saw in the classroom.
“Phones and iPad devices, used for social media and gaming,” he said. “Since we now have no backup, no functional location to send kids who won’t quit gaming, setting up fights, selling drugs, whoring trains, or cyber bullying, we’re screwed, just designing our own classroom rules.”
While Olson’s remarks contained no racial element, it quickly created outrage in the St. Paul chapter of Black Lives Matter. The group denounced Olson as a “white supremacist” and demanded he be fired. If he wasn’t, the group said it would launch a “shutdown action” at Como Park with the intent of disrupting classes there.
“Saint Paul Public Schools Superintendent Valeria Silva as well as the school board have been notified that if they do not fire Theodore Olson, we will move with forward with a shut down action, no negotiations, no deals,” the group said in a statement March 3. “Get him gone! do your job! or we will do it for you! Got that Silva ? Got it board members ? [sic]”
The protest was called off Monday after BLM leaders met with St. Paul superintendent Valeria Silva in a discussion BLM member Rashad Turner deemed “productive and positive.”
Now, Turner’s upbeat mood makes sense. It emerged Wednesday that Olson had been placed on leave by the school district. The district hasn’t officially said why Olson was suspended, but it’s a near certainty the move is related to his Facebook posts, and St. Paul Black Lives Matter reacted accordingly.
“[It’s] a great first step,” Turner said according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “We need to rid the district of all employees who share the belief in the racial bias and disdain that Mr. Olson shared so comfortably.”
But while Olson could be on his way out, Como Park has been rocked by the violence he denounced. The same day Olson was placed on leave, one of his fellow teachers at Como Park was hospitalized after being attacked by two students at the school. The teacher had been attempting to remove two students who didn’t belong in his classroom, and was repaid for his efforts by being punched in the face and then thrown to the ground. Police are investigating and said the two students will likely be charged with assault.
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