by Megan Olson
St. Paul Public Schools’ Equity Committee recently called for an end to school suspensions among other recommendations as a way to tackle inequities in the district.
The Equity Committee in the St. Paul Public School District was created in 2019 and is led by Superintendent Joe Gothard. The committee meets monthly to identify and examine “racial inequities” and equity disparities, as well as craft recommendations for the school board at large.
During a June 15 St. Paul Public School Board meeting, the Equity Committee brought forward a list of recommendations, including ending the use of suspensions in the district.
The Minnesota Department of Human Rights has been in charge of monitoring “disproportionality and suspensions” data since 2018. They found that in the 2019-2020 school year, black students made up around 26% of enrollment, but received 73% of out-of-school suspensions. Additionally, American Indians made up around 1% of enrollment but constituted 5% of these suspensions.
A member of the Equity Committee, Nancy Paez, who is also the Riverview West Side School of Excellence principal, said that students who receive suspensions miss instruction and feel shamed, in addition to lacking peer interaction.
Studies from 2014 and 2016 show that the rates of misbehavior in school are higher for black students than white students. In 2016, 11.4% of black students got into physical altercations while on school property, compared to 5.4% of white students.
In 2015, teachers in St. Paul threatened to strike over violence in the schools, saying that they were “being shoved, punched and threatened by students” in what they described as a “hostile environment.”
In addition to recommending the end of school suspensions, the Equity Committee also noted that staff lack cultural awareness, since there are only 21% nonwhite teachers and high turnover in the district limits the creation of a positive environment.
The committee also cited an “ingrained belief” that doing the “same thing white people do” is the “one path to success.”
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Megan Olson is a 2020 graduate of the University of Minnesota with degrees in political science and history. She works in public affairs in addition to serving on the Legislative Advisory Council for School District 196. She is also on the school board for FIT academy, a charter school in Apple Valley.
Photo “Equal Justice Under Law” by Saint Paul Public Schools SPPS.