An invitation to more violence in the St. Paul public schools

St. Paul public school officials continue their hapless quest to staunch the growing in-school violence that is terrifying teachers and driving families out of the district.

The task force was created in response to attacks on teachers last year. These included an assault that left a teacher with a traumatic brain injury, and another attack—during a “classroom invasion”—whose victim required staples to close a head wound.

Last night, a “school climate task force” presented its recommendations on controlling student-on-staff violence to the St. Paul School Board.

The task force—an august group of principals, administrators and other important folks—has met since February. What new policies did they come up? Did they endorse holding students to higher behavior standards and imposing serious penalties on those who inflict violence on others?

Nope. The group continued district leaders’ mantra that it’s teachers’ behavior that must change, not students’. The best the task force could do was to suggest “increased support for students in crisis,” and more training to instruct teachers in “techniques to de-escalate disruptive behavior.”

Board Member Zuki Ellis said that the big concern for many people is whether students are safe at school, according to the Star Tribune.  She asked the question that should be on every St. Paul parent’s lips: “What else is there? There has to be more than this.”

John Peterson, executive director of the district’s school climate office, responded that the district currently lacks even the funds required to step up de-escalation training.  The financial situation isn’t expected to improve in 2017-18, when another big deficit looms.

Apparently, demanding civil behavior by students and changing discipline policies—which should cost little or nothing—simply isn’t being contemplated.

But never mind. There’s still hope:school-violence

Kathy Lombardi, the St. Paul Public Schools’ mental health coordinator, told the Star Tribune that—earlier this year—the district made available to all staff members an online course entitled “Handing Crisis Situations.” The course emphasizes

a quick but calm response to students who act out. Controlling one’s body and voice is advised. Facial muscles should be relaxed and the appearance one of confidence, even if stressed. Stand slightly more than a leg’s length from a student to avoid being hit or kicked, the lesson states.

Not part of that course, but an element of the nonviolent crisis-intervention training required of special-education teachers, is what to do when efforts to talk it out fails, and a staff member must put his or her hands on a student and do a safe hold.

So now we’re asking teachers to put their health—and perhaps their lives—in danger by executing “safe holds” on violent students? We will expect the exodus from St. Paul schools, by both teachers and families, to continue.