Simon Whitehead was a teacher in Minneapolis Public Schools for 25 years until he resigned in 2017.
He joined Kendall Qualls, president of TakeCharge, on the Fully Charged podcast to talk about the bureaucratic chaos in schools and the fallout for teachers and students.
In 2012, Southwest High School was the top high school in Minnesota as ranked by U.S. News and World Report, Whitehead said. Today, it’s not even in the top 50.
Minneapolis Public Schools’ policies have systematically destroyed the school, he said.
Whitehead said it all started with a “Dear Colleague Letter” from former President Barack Obama’s administration, which said kids of color were being suspended at higher rates than other ethnicities and it had to stop.
According to Whitehead, the administration and districts sent out an edict to schools that forbade them from suspending kids of color unless they did something extremely violent.
“The kids became unsuspendable. Kids are really smart. They figured it out. A very small minority of kids took over the school,” he said.
“Most kids just want to go to school and learn. We had a racial makeup of about 50 percent white students, and the rest were different minorities. If you were a black student at Southwest High School, you had an 80 percent chance of graduating on time. That’s compared to about a 40 to 50 percent chance at any other school in the city,” he explained.
“Yet we were somehow known as a racist school because we had a lot of white teachers. I will also add we actually had more black students than any other school in Minneapolis because we had over 2,000 students and 25 percent of our students were African American,” Whitehead continued.
Whitehead said he thought the school was in a good place until “all of the diversity and white privilege stuff came in.”
The bureaucrats at City Hall and the Board of Education decided what was good for teachers and bad for students, he said.
“Just about every day, kids disrupt classes. So much time is lost dealing with two or three students per class who are late or disruptive,” he said.
Whitehead said because of changes to policy, teachers and other students get verbally abused every day. “A kid can tell you to f-off with no consequences,” he said.
Since he left five years ago, things have continued to get worse, he noted.
“Everyone in Minneapolis is losing. They’re losing teachers because there’s only so much you can put up with. They’re losing the strong students because they’re not getting what they deserve because they’re dumbing down higher level classes.”
“Kids need two things,” Whitehead concluded. “They need love, and they need structure. It’s hard to give the love if they take the structure away, and they took the structure away. They didn’t want any accountability or consequences, so now you’re starting to see the results.”