Harding High School murder – “rarity” offers no comfort and is at odds with student perception

A 15-year-old St. Paul Harding High School student was stabbed to death in the halls of the school last Friday. A 16-year-old student is in custody for the murder. Harding High School is closed today, as staff and students “grieve and process.” A vigil organized by the St. Paul Federation of Teachers is planned for this evening.

Sadly, this murder occurred less than a month after another teen was shot in the head by city staff at a student recreation center near St. Paul Central High School, and another shooting that wounded a school staff member who attempted to break up a fight between students at the Washington Technology Magnet school in St. Paul. Just a year ago, a student was shot and killed just outside Richfield High School.

The fact that these events are “rare” offers no comfort.

The progression of violence in our schools is shocking. 50 years ago, violence of any sort was almost unheard of. 25 years ago, a fight was a big deal, resulting in suspensions and other severe consequences for those involved. Today, we find ourselves closing schools to hold vigils for student murder victims.

Students have shared their perceptions of safety in our schools, and it shouldn’t surprise us that it is dismal. According to the Star Tribune, the Minnesota Department of Education student survey has shown a decline in students who believed their school was safe, from 52% in 2013 to just 26% in 2022. Find the reporting here.

It is troubling that this violence and perceived reduction in school safety has happened at the same time some school boards have removed from schools the very resource that could provide safety — licensed peace officers who had staffed the School Resource Officer positions. The Minneapolis and St. Paul School boards both ended their SRO programs in 2020 after determining that some students felt uncomfortable around police. The SROs have been replaced with civilian security specialists, and as a result the districts have reported fewer disciplinary encounters. It seems clear this is not the result of reduced violence, but rather reduced enforcement.

In light of the Harding High School murder, students and parents have openly stated their desire for a return to SROs. A School Board member who has opposed SROs has thankfully opened her mind to the idea.

“I’m open to talking to our students and faculty about what it is that they need.  If that is the direction we feel is needed as a board or community we’ll move forward. 

It’s sad it took tragedy to elicit that response.