Justice

Even Teachers Who Have Personally Been Assaulted Oppose Harsh New Minnesota Bill

CREDIT: KSTP TV/Screenshot

A Minnesota lawmaker says he wants keep teachers safe — whether they want that help or not.

Following a string of student attacks on teachers, state senator Dave Brown thinks the best way to keep instructors safe is to kick out every student who assaults them. He introduced a bill earlier this month that would require school boards to automatically expel students who assault teachers by threatening or inflicting bodily harm. The board would also have the power to decide if and when those students can return, and place them in different classrooms.

Educators say that plan would go against everything they’ve been fighting for this year: expanded support services for students to reduce disruptive behavior and improve school safety.

The number of assaults on teachers is unknown, but recent incidents involving violence against them in the past few months inspired the legislation.

“Imagine if you’re a teacher in a public school and you’re assaulted, I mean physically violently assaulted by a student, and that student’s going to be coming back, I think every teacher should have that right to determine, whether they want that student back in their classroom or not,” Brown said at a press conference last week. “They may say no, I’m fearful of that student.”

But the teachers the bill is supposed to protect think it will do more harm than good. Despite Brown’s assertion that race and gender will not play a role in the bill’s enforcement, they predict students of color will bear the brunt of harsher school penalties — which tends to happen under zero-tolerance policies. Teachers also fear that students with disabilities, who may not be able to control their emotions and impulses, will have a target on their backs.

“There’s no way in hell I’d want those kids to be expelled,” Aaron Benner, a former fourth grade teacher whose been punched and spit on by students, told Minneapolis City Pages. “When I heard this bill was being proposed, I was like, ‘What? I don’t get this.'”

A 63-year-old substitute teacher who was shoved multiple times for confiscating a student’s cell phone similarly told the outlet that expulsion isn’t the answer.

“School is really the place they need to be to get an education and have a good future, and where they should be able to get real, true counseling,” she said. “I believe that kids who hit were probably hit themselves. There are some really difficult lives that kids are leading, and I just think that just kicking him out, it could ruin his future.”

Expulsion increases the likelihood of dropping out of school — and committing future crimes. Racially-biased expulsions also hurt students’ higher education prospects, as colleges and universities increasingly consider disciplinary records during the admissions process.

Keeping those consequences in mind, the St. Paul teachers demanding more school safety have specifically focused their efforts on helping students — not turning them away from the classroom.

After a high school teacher was choked and left unconscious last December, the St. Paul Federation of Teachers threatened to strike if the school district didn’t mediate. The union, which boasts 3,800 members, asked the district to expand counseling and social work services for students. It also demanded funding for teachers, parents, and staff to devise and implement restorative justice strategies that emphasize relationship-building with students and solving problems on school grounds. Additionally, educators pushed for resources to address systemic problems that impact their students.

A three-year deal was reached in February to invest $4.5 million for restorative justice practices.

At a Senate hearing last week, educators voiced concerns that Brown’s legislation would undermine the efforts to build positive relationships with their students.

“Every time you have a situation, there are circumstances that we believe need to be taken into account: the age of the student, the background of the student, the discipline record of the student, is the student dealing with special needs?” Executive Director Gary Amoroso of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators testified. “This bill would not allow any of that to come into play, which we believe is troublesome.”