St. Paul Public Schools students, teacher, principal open up about safety

Violence in St. Paul public schools

Violence in St. Paul public schools

Sixty-five percent of teachers who responded to a recent St. Paul Public Schools staff survey said they’ve “witnessed or experienced physical violence” at school. The perception of personal safety was lowest among senior high school staff, with 55% saying they feel “unsafe” or “very unsafe” in their buildings.

From assaults to recovered weapons and a deadly stabbing in the Harding High School hallway, St. Paul schools have seen their share of unnerving days this school year. More than 200 people packed a February school board meeting following the death of 15-year-old Harding High School student Devin Scott to speak out about safety in schools.

The school district on Monday connected 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS to a teacher, five students and the principal of Johnson Senior High School, where a fight prompted a lockdown last month.

“I mean, like, I wouldn’t say it’s nothing outstanding to me,” junior Bobby Arnold said when asked about how he remembered that day.

“Yeah, I feel safe. When I come here, I feel like there’s people I can rely on,” senior Beautiful Thao added.

“Of course, I’ve like, experienced violence, but I don’t think it’s gotten really bad,” junior Jelani Mays chimed in. “Like, the worst thing I’ve probably seen is a fight.”

“Most of the time, we just trust that the staff will take care of it because they always do,” senior Nasya Xiong said.

“When you come here, like, I wouldn’t think, ‘OK, I gotta worry about a shooting.’ I don’t gotta worry about somebody pulling a gun on me or having to go through all of these things,” Arnold continued.

“I just know that when I get here that I’m safer than anywhere else I could be,” senior Makai Green said, adding, “I just wish that other schools can feel like that, too.”

The students’ sense of ease comes from a deep trust and connections with school staff, they said. Three out of five of them plan to return to Johnson Senior High School after college as teachers themselves.

“Those kids that you met are not the outliers,” said Colin Moore, a parent, coach and community and cultural specialist at Johnson High School.

Moore, who has been the school’s basketball coach since 2007, said he was “extremely surprised” to hear that the majority of his peers responding to the school district survey have experienced or witnessed violence.

“I haven’t experienced that myself in terms of people being specifically violent to myself,” he shared.

“The incidents that you’re speaking about, they’re very few this school year here at Johnson,” Principal Jamil Payton echoed. “I’d say this school year it’s probably been twice … where there’s been an incident where we’ve had to hold people, hold students in class.”

Safety in schools is not a problem in St. Paul alone, but the district has been collecting feedback as a part of a larger survey of teachers, staff, students and parents. That is scheduled to be presented at a Board of Education meeting Tuesday evening.