St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) is reconsidering its approach to safety in its schools after the fatal stabbing of 15-year-old student Devin Scott at Harding Senior High School last month. SPPS Chief of Operations and Administration Jackie Turner said the district is considering several new approaches for not just Harding, but all schools.
“Every school is designed a little differently as far as their facilities are concerned. They may have different places in the building that might need support,” Turner said. “Every building’s a little different. We’re asking buildings to take a look at that and then collectively bring forth suggestions for what they can do to improve.”
SPPS has formed onsite safety committees composed of students, parents, staff, and external community partners to gather suggestions on safety improvements at their schools. The committees will act in an advisory capacity to the school board, which will have the ultimate say on what measures are implemented. Turner said that some committees have asked for more hall monitors or more support during passing time between classes.
“As you all know, safety is a complicated subject,” said SPPS Superintendent Joe Gothard at a press conference last month. “There’re many right answers. And for us to land on one that is going to keep everybody safe—there is no solution to that. There is no quick fix.”
One potential security measure that is being debated in the district and St. Paul community is whether to return school resource officers (SROs) to SPPS schools. SROs, who were local police officers, were removed from public schools in both St. Paul and Minneapolis in 2020, in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
On Feb. 28, SPPS held a special school board meeting and allowed staff, students and community to voice their opinions on SROs. Brooke Steigauf, a second-year teacher at Global Arts Plus, was adamantly against returning SROs to schools, citing the history of interactions between race and policing in St. Paul.
“How can we work towards equity in SPPS if we have shaken hands with a system that has historically and presently been used to protect property and oppress Black, Brown, and Indigenous people the most,” Steigauf said. “That’s also ignoring the loss of Amir Locke, of Winston Smith, of Philando Castile, of Yia Xiong, and so many more that have deeply hurt and traumatized our families. This is the opposite of safety.“
Nate Giles, a special education teacher at Highland Park Senior, disagreed and voiced his support for bringing SROs back to schools. “We’re creating environments that are unsustainable, and we can see how many students are unenrolling from St. Paul schools,” Giles said.
“I’m worried that Washington, Harding, Central won’t exist in the future. And the same thing will happen to Highland if we don’t make a big change. Because if you won’t send your kids there, or you’re considering withdrawing your kids, I guarantee you that other people are thinking that too.”
Currently, other non-police security options are being explored in St. Paul schools. Following the stabbing, Harding created a new position for an onsite ombudsperson. SPPS transferred an existing employee from its Office of Family Engagement and Community Partnerships, Albert Green, to fill the role. SPPS says Harding families are free to contact Green with any concerns at 651-592-5233.
“In this particular case, we have offered [an onsite ombudsperson] because we heard from the community that parents felt like they wanted someone right there at Harding,” Turner said. “This is a neutral party, not necessarily someone who works on behalf of Harding, or works on behalf of the parent or student. They’re a neutral party that brings issues together and helps to try to get them resolved.
“The way that our families and parents have stepped up, as well as our staff, to prioritize the needs of Harding and prioritize the needs of students has been greatly appreciated, and it’s been recognized,” Turner said. “We have had our eyes on Harding and the support around it for the past several weeks, and things continuously improve each and every day.”
Turner said incidents where SPPS has called police have trended down by over 50 percent in the past year—with 301 incidents between Sept. 2021 and March 2022, compared to 142 incidents in the same time frame for the 2022-23 school year. She said SPPS has received a federal grant to research what factors impact violence at community levels, especially in schools. SPPS will be conducting the research in partnership with several metro area institutions.
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