Fear and loathing in St. Paul Public Schools
October 25, 2015
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The St. Paul Public Schools district is experiencing tense times. Teachers and their union are pushing back on a multi-million dollar equity plan conceived by Superintendent Valeria Silva.  At issue: mainstreaming students who have been segregated from regular education classroom for years. The situation is so hot that the St. Paul Federation of Teachers is running a slate of candidates for the school board to challenge the Superintendent and her plan. At the same time there has been racially coded sensationalist press, partially driven by white teachers and journalists intending to incite fear in the public. Rashad Turner, leader of St. Paul BlackLivesMatter and a write-in candidate for school board, recently sent this open letter about the issues facing St. Paul. 

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Recently there has been a lot of discussion and fear-mongering surrounding a couple of fights that took place at Como High School and Humboldt High Schools within the last week or so. While I do not condone violence, I find the response from the St. Paul Police Department and community members who consider themselves progressive liberals to be very disturbing.

I chose to run for St. Paul Public Schools Board of Education as a write-in candidate, not because I thought it was going to be easy, but because I know that our students need someone who understands them and understands that white supremacy is deeply rooted in our public education system.

Black, Native, and Latino students in St. Paul Public Schools are a part of one of the largest so called ‘achievement gaps’ in the country, and it’s not because they don’t have the same God-given ability to learn and retain information as white students; it’s because from the time they enter preschool they are often seen as and treated like criminals.

Education data shows that while black students make up about 18% of preschoolers nationwide, they make up nearly 50% of preschool suspensions. Prisons are built based on black students’ reading comprehension scores in the third grade, so any logical person will come to the conclusion that if black students are overrepresented in suspensions starting on day one of their educational experience, it’s going to be pretty damn hard to be able to read by the time third grade comes around.

Black, Native, and Latino students often feel unwelcome in our schools and that is shown by the fact that these students are statistically at the bottom of every academic category, but lead the way in suspensions, expulsions, out of class time, and disorderly conduct charges filed by St. Paul Police Officers inside of our schools.

Now this might be mind boggling for some, but it is important to understand that some of the adults who are hired to serve our students intentionally fail to talk about… white students FIGHT, white students sell DRUGS, white students CURSE at teachers. In a nutshell, white students often exhibit the same types of behaviors as black, Native, and Latino students, except they are not disciplined in the same harsh manner.

So, what we see from the data is that white students with the same infractions as students of color are not being suspended or expelled from school at similar rates. More specifically, black students are over three times more likely to be suspended than white students for the same adolescent mistakes. Nor are white students demonized to the same degree as students of color when they make mistakes.

I witnessed many times throughout my own K-12 experience in St. Paul Public Schools the criminalization of my friends and other students I knew. For example, on one occasion, my friend was talking while the teacher was talking and the teacher felt the need to show authority in the form of belittling him in front of the whole class. My friend responded by calling the teacher a racist a**hole. The next thing you know, my friend was being taken out of the school in handcuffs and charged with disorderly conduct.

Students of color who are looking to be educated, loved, and accepted by their teachers are being suspended and expelled because of implicit bias and white supremacy. Those students of color who are being suspended and expelled from St. Paul Public schools at a rate of 3x their white peers are more likely to drop out of school. Which means, our schools in St. Paul are directly contributing to the pipeline to prison in more ways than one.

We as a community are allowing our schools to become police-led institutions that take the air from our students’ sails as early as preschool. We are allowing them to give our kids criminal records before they even reach high school. We are allowing them to leave our children hopeless and without a positive future. We must come together and stop this!

My friend, from the example above, dropped out of school with more than ten criminal charges from School Resource Officers on his record, was functionally illiterate, and because of his record was unable to find employment. By the time he turned 18, he was convicted as an adult and sent to prison. When he got out of prison, he was shot and killed.

Somewhere, someone had the data that showed that my friend would be dead or in jail by the time he was 18…for my friend it was both. It’s time to stop indirectly assisting the police and criminal justice systems in murdering our black boys and girls by criminalizing them in school. School is where all of our students should be, not in a grave or a prison.

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Rashad Turner is running for St. Paul School Board as a write in candidate writeinRashadTurner November 3rd, 2015

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