Since 2018, St. Paul schools collectively paid $665,000 to 3 teachers in legal settlements

According to St. Paul Public Schools, the district has settled separate lawsuits with three former teachers for $665,000 collectively.  In each settlement, SPPS declined any wrongdoing.

In 2019, former SPPS elementary school teacher, Aaron Benner, settled his lawsuit with the district for $525,000.   Benner claimed the district retaliated against him in the workplace after he spoke out publicly about violence in the schools which Benner said at the time was threatening the safety of students, teachers and staff at multiple schools in the district.

“I was asking for help and how we could help our kids. And, I always kept the same narrative,” Benner told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.  “I always said that if we don’t do something now, we’re setting our kids up for failure in the future.”

Benner told KSTP he was subjected to six internal investigations by SPPS administrators and that’s when he decided to file his suit against the district and leave his job.

“I would have a knot in my stomach not quite sure what the next day might bring,” said Benner.  “But, after the fourth one, and I knew I wasn’t returning to St. Paul Public Schools, I knew I was going to file a complaint with the Minnesota Human Rights Department.”

In November, former special education teacher, Rachel Wannarka, settled her workplace retaliation lawsuit against SPPS for $120,000.  A third teacher, Candice Egan, who also left the district, settled her lawsuit with SPPS for $20,000 in 2018.

Wannarka said she told SPPS administrators, and a reporter, that special education students were not receiving proper individual education plans in violation of federal law.  The next day, Wannarka told KSTP she received a classroom visit from her school’s principal after students had been dismissed for the day.

“He yelled at me and told me I was untrustworthy and that I made the school look bad and he had directed the building administration to stop sharing information with me,” said Wannarka.

Wannarka said the retaliation by her principal and other SPPS administrators became so intense she decided to resign.

Wannarka is now employed at the Minnesota Department of Education and Benner is a teacher at Hill-Murray High School in Maplewood.

SPPS declined comment.  But, a spokesperson issued the following statement:

“SPPS has reached a small number of settlements over the years. The District enters into such agreements on a case-by-case basis to preserve resources for serving students and maintain focus on our educational mission.”