‘Negligent’: St. Paul teachers, parents grill school board over violence in schools

Teachers said they warned district leaders that a tragedy like Devin Scott's murder would happen. 

St. Paul
Devin Scott's cousin, Henry Scott, also spoke at the meeting, saying the presence of school resource officers makes a difference. (St. Paul Public Schools)

Fearing retaliation, St. Paul teachers are scared to speak out on the violence in their schools, and when they do, their concerns are ignored by district leadership.

That was the message delivered to the St. Paul Board of Education at a special meeting Tuesday night, when the dam broke and dozens of teachers, parents, and community members opened up about their fears for student safety.

Hundreds gathered for the meeting, and the board sat and listened for nearly three hours.

The meeting was called after a student, 15-year-old Devin Scott, was stabbed to death at St. Paul’s Harding High School in February. At a reception following Scott’s funeral, three teenagers were injured in a drive-by shooting.

Teachers said they warned district leaders that a tragedy like this would happen.

After the incident, Superintendent Joe Gothard temporarily returned school resource officers to some district buildings, a decision which was met with both criticism and support during Tuesday night’s meeting.

But teachers and parents were unanimous on one thing: violence in schools is out of control.

Emma Stalker, a St. Paul teacher, said both students and staff are at risk in schools, calling for real consequences for poor student behavior.

“The events that have occurred during the 2022-2023 school year have led me to seriously consider the longevity of my career and role in public education,” she said.

“I’ve had students bring weapons into my classroom and use them against each other. This is sometimes even sanctioned by parents and guardians who know that children are feeling threatened from their doorstep to the bus stop to the classroom and everywhere in between,” another teacher said.

According to that teacher, “mental health for students is the worst” it’s ever been.

Others said students have threatened to “shoot up” buildings and have seriously injured teachers by throwing objects at them during class.

“Our staff and students have been physically assaulted over and over again. Some of my students now hide under tables or chairs when they hear a knock at the door,” an elementary school teacher said.

The parent of a ninth-grader called this a “ridiculous year,” saying instances of drug use and violence are commonplace, and even though this information is shared with district leaders, nothing happens.

She said her daughter sees the violent students get a slap on the wrist and return to the classroom without any consequences for their actions.

“Our schools are ridiculous places of violence,” she said. “I don’t know who is informing the school boards, but it isn’t the constituents, because I can tell you what, people have had it!”

Jessica Grodin, a graduate of St. Paul Public Schools and current parent and teacher, emphasized that teachers fear retaliation for speaking out.

“This district has spent, more accurately wasted, hundreds of thousands of dollars on silencing people trying to voice genuine concerns about the problems in our schools,” she said. “Does silence make the problems go away?”

Secondary English Language teacher Alanna Sweeney said that she has seen her share of gang violence, threats, harassment, and other traumatic events just this year.

“At any given time, we have 30 to 40 students roaming the hallways unsupervised,” she said. “These students know that they will not receive consequences. Suspensions are rare.”

She said it feels like only 10% of what she does is actually teaching students.

Julia Shepherd, a teacher at Harding High School, revealed that teachers and staff have reached out to the school board many times for help.

“Those cries for help have gone unheeded,” Shepherd said. “Every person over there has gotten an email in the weeks leading up to Devin’s death, and there was no response.” Shepherd called the board negligent for ignoring requests for help with issues of violence.

Steve Winfield, who works both in the schools and with law enforcement, told the board: “We talk about needing to hold law enforcement accountable, but we need to hold our children accountable, too.”

Devin Scott’s cousin, Henry Scott, also spoke at the meeting, saying the presence of school resource officers makes a difference.

“As a kid, if you come in there and see an officer, your decision is going to change automatically because you know it’s a police officer there,” he said.

The board did not take any action during the meeting. Nosakhere Kazeem, 16, is facing second-degree murder charges for Scott’s death.


Hayley Feland

Hayley Feland previously worked as a journalist with The Minnesota Sun, The Wisconsin Daily Star, and The College Fix. She is a Minnesota native with a passion for politics and journalism.