In the follow-up to the recent murder inside St. Paul Harding High School, we are learning from students, teachers, and parents how a focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) over the past 13 years has not only failed to improve student achievement and reduce racial achievement gaps, but has also created an atmosphere where chaos, dysfunction, and violence rule. 

If Harding was to receive a grade it would certainly be an “F.”

“We all saw it coming” 

Five Harding High School teachers recently spoke with the Pioneer Press under the condition of anonymity. Read about their stories here.  

The story of the decline in safety and order at Harding and throughout the district is both alarming and depressing. Alarming because of the extent to which safety has eroded, and depressing because it is all so obviously avoidable.  

Instead of actually holding students accountable for inappropriate, unlawful, and in far too many cases life-threatening behavior, the district has obsessed over narratives such as the fictitious “school to prison pipeline” (supposedly the result of school resource officers enforcing laws against assaults, weapon possession and narcotic sales) and other “DEI” efforts that ignore and excuse behavior in some twisted and failed effort to lift up a few by holding down the majority. Not only is the theory behind the effort flawed, but the effort itself has failed miserably, and all St. Paul School District students have paid the price for that failure.

One Harding High School parent was appropriately critical of the “school to prison pipeline” narrative, telling the Pioneer Press that pulling officers out of the St. Paul schools post George Floyd was an “overreaction” and has created a “school to hospital to morgue pipeline.”

The teachers report that upwards of 70 students routinely wander the Harding High halls and bathrooms throughout the day, not attending classes, but rather causing chaos. At the same time, the district has closed many of its alternative school options, instead deciding that problem students will remain in mainstream schools. When a student becomes too much of a problem at one school, they simply are transferred to another school. Good luck to everyone involved.

As a result of the SPSD’s shift away from enforcement of laws, rules, and accountability, a mindboggling 9 firearms have been taken from students in St. Paul schools over the past 1 1/2 years, and NONE of these students has been expelled, despite the SPSD’s policy that calls for expulsion for such an offense. 

Excerpt from Pioneer Press article about how Harding got to this point:

The teachers also pointed to racial equity efforts that began a decade ago under then-Superintendent Valeria Silva and have continued under Gothard.

St. Paul, like many districts across the state and country, has worked to reduce out-of-school suspensions and criminal arrests, especially for students of color.

Students now are going unpunished for smoking marijuana and swearing at teachers, which used to result in two-week suspensions, one teacher said.

Another teacher recalled a new student who showed up “so high he couldn’t keep his eyes open,” then walked out five minutes later.

“There was a day when I would follow up: What’s going on? Let’s do a drug eval,” the teacher said. “I can’t because I’m trying to keep control of my room.”

It used to be that teachers would teach, and administrators would handle student discipline. Now, the teacher said, students who are sent to the office for disrupting class often return within minutes.

“There’s no backup from admin because that’s how they’re being trained,” another teacher said.

Even before the St. Paul school board removed school resource officers from the high schools in 2020, the district instructed its contracted officers to overlook minor crimes in hopes of interrupting the school-to-prison pipeline. The officers made 342 arrests in St. Paul schools in 2010-11 but a total of just 39 over the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years.

The teacher said the attention on racial equity has been good in some ways, as teachers have learned to handle classroom misbehavior on their own rather than calling administrators to remove students for minor infractions.

“There is some good in that,” she said. “But there comes a point where it’s so much to the detriment of the other 32 kids in the room.”

The St. Paul School District implemented its DEI-focused policy shift in 2010 under then-new Superintendent Valerie Silva. The goal was to decrease achievement gaps between racial groups of students. In 2016, the Pioneer Press evaluated these policy changes and concluded: 

“…despite Silva’s progressive agenda, some of the district’s metrics on equity look even worse than when she was hired in December 2009.”

Current Superintendent Joe Gothard, who replaced Silva in 2016, has continued the DEI-focused approach in St. Paul to the detriment of student achievement. 

According to the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) annual reports, St. Paul student academic achievement has decreased across the board between 2016 and 2022 as follows:  Reading proficiency has dropped from 39% to 34.8%, Math proficiency has dropped from 37% to 25.2%, and Science proficiency has dropped from 32% to 25.1%. 

Worse yet the gap between racial groups has not improved at all. Black students for example are now at historically low levels of proficiency in each area: Reading — 20.7%, Math — 11.9%, and Science — 9.7%.

Superintendent Gothard will continue holding meetings with parents to discuss solutions to the disorder.

One of the teachers who was at an April meeting after Harding’s third gun incident that school year recalled administrators blaming teachers for the state of the school. At the recent staff meeting after Scott’s death, the superintendent and his team struck a different tone.

“I think he’s finally got the message,” the teacher said. “Too little, too late.”

St. Paul students, parents, and teachers deserve better.