Teacher’s Lawsuit Against St. Paul School District Moves Forward

A lawsuit seeking to hold the St. Paul Public School District—and its students—accountable will proceed in court to the evidence gathering stage, according to the Pioneer Press.

The lawsuit was filed by former St. Paul school teacher Aaron Benner who claimed the district retaliated against him for challenging its racial equity policy.

Aaron Benner says district administrators opened dubious personnel investigations against him because he publicly criticized the district’s lenient disciplinary practices toward African-American students.

The investigations began after Benner witnessed assaults on students and was also assaulted himself. When he went to his principal and district for help, little to no disciplinary action was taken because the students were black. The district did, however, discipline Benner for the way he handled these incidents.

Benner claimed the investigations reflected unequal scrutiny and created a hostile work environment, causing him to resign from the school district instead of risk being fired. According to the Pioneer Press, the district wanted the lawsuit dismissed because Benner chose to quit his job and “suffered no harm.”

But as my colleague Kim Crockett wrote about here, this lawsuit is “about more than what happened to Mr. Benner (assault, retaliation and loss of income). For Mr. Benner, it is about the message the school is sending to students (and what this is doing to the profession of teaching).” Crockett then quotes KARE-11’s detailed report:

The lawsuit states Benner believed the district’s racial equity policy was not holding African American students accountable for behavior issues as opposed to students of other races, and that policy was causing African American students to act out more. The lawsuit quotes Benner’s statement at the school board meeting as saying, “Dr. King would be very disappointed because here we are 51 years later and the concept of the matter at hand is skin color.”

As Benner shared with the Center’s Kathy Kersten, “schools have to have discipline and not worry about disparities when it comes to racial guidelines.” Excusing or not sufficiently disciplining bad behavior does not help set students up for success.

The Center will continue to follow Mr. Benner’s case and is hopeful better disciplinary policies will be enforced under the district’s new leadership.