The NAACP of St. Paul, Minnesota has jumped into a court case involving a former city school district teacher.
Aaron Benner, who had taught in St. Paul schools for 14 years, alleges he was the subject of “personnel investigations” after denouncing the “discipline” program promulgated by Glenn Singleton’s Pacific Educational Group.
He filed a lawsuit against the district early last month after the city human rights department concluded he had probable cause for a case. He was subjected to four investigations over a six-month period in the 2014-15 school year, the Star Tribune reports.
According to Benner, the Singleton program, oxymoronically titled “Courageous Conversations,” uses so-called Critical Race Theory as its theoretical foundation and “pushes the idea that black students are victims of white school policies that make it difficult or impossible for them to learn.”
The St. Paul NAACP’s Joel Franklin said in a statement that “it was ‘very disturbing’ that the district would go after Benner for ‘simply voicing the concern’ that not holding black students accountable for misbehavior sets them up for failure in life.”
St. Paul, like many districts, is aiming to diversify a mostly white teaching corps, and its treatment of Benner complicates that goal, Franklin said in a recent interview.
“This is going to hamper any efforts to recruit other African-American teachers,” he said. …
The actions against Benner came after he and four other district teachers spoke at a May 2014 school board meeting about the need for greater consequences for students who misbehave. Benner alone has addressed a perceived lack of discipline specifically for black students, and those views have won him local and national media attention.
After its investigation, the human rights department tried unsuccessfully to mediate a settlement between Benner and the district. Benner then filed suit on May 11. This week, the district turned down a request by Benner’s attorney, Reid Goldetsky, to enter into talks, Benner said, prompting him to break a brief silence.
“SPPS tried to ruin a 20-year teaching career,” he said. “But for me, this will always be about the students. I can make this personal if I want to, but I’m not.”
Benner’s view — shared by Franklin — is that the push to reduce racial imbalance in suspensions fails to help kids who might benefit from discipline.
In his view, the best alternative to suspensions is to send unruly students to a room staffed by a licensed teacher. That is the role he served when he left the St. Paul district to work for a charter school. He now is an administrator at a Catholic school in St. Paul.
St. Paul has had several issues regarding teachers and discipline over the last few years. Aside from Benner’s situation, a pair of teachers were transferred to different schools after the local Black Lives Matter affiliate complained about them, with one eventually forced into retirement.
Another teacher filed a federal lawsuit alleging school officials did nothing to prevent harassment and physical assaults by students, and also accused them of requiring her to begin statements made in meetings with “As a white woman I feel …”