Student safety, mental health top of mind in wake of fatal stabbing at St. Paul high school

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While the St. Paul Public Schools community heals from a fatal stabbing Friday at Harding High School, the district is taking steps to keep students and staff safe going forward.

School safety

In a letter to the district’s families and staff on Monday, Laura Olson, SPPS director of security and emergency management, said the district will partner with police to strengthen security at five high schools “that have recently experienced traumatic events at or near their campuses,” including Harding.

Two St. Paul police officers will be stationed outside Central, Como Park, Harding, Humboldt and Washington high schools on a “short-term basis,” Olson said. Additionally, a third school support liaison will join the existing security team at Harding.

The letter states the officers assigned to these schools have a track record of engaging with the community’s youth and “may be familiar faces” to some.

“While these five schools are getting these resources now, this is a fluid situation and we have
the ability to make adjustments as needed,” Olson wrote. “We are working closely with SPPD to determine what the longer-term plans could look like.”

Monday night vigil

While the community grapples with public and school safety questions, many are grieving the loss of 15-year-old Devin Scott, the victim of Friday’s fatal stabbing at Harding High School.

The St. Paul Federation of Educators held a candlelight vigil at 6 p.m. Monday at the school in the wake of Scott’s death. The teachers’ union said Scott was in the 10th grade.

RELATED: Student, 15, fatally stabbed inside Harding High School; suspect in custody

“[Tonight is about] being in this space together, so that we could have a place to grieve and be with one another at that moment,” said Leah VanDasson, president of the teachers’ union.

VanDasson feels the best way to handle school safety concerns is improving school resources.

“School safety is really about early interventions, fully staffed mental health support teams and restorative practices,” VanDasson said.

Students of Harding also joined the vigil. One classmate, Chaske Henry, said he’s frustrated and does not feel safe at school.

“It was a really unfortunate event that happened here,” Henry said. “A student lost their life, and it’s supposed to be a school environment, it’s supposed to be safe.”

Henry added, “I think we should have medically trained [school resource] officers and metal detectors [at] our entrances.”

While the community processes, administrators canceled classes for both Monday and Tuesday.

Mental health after violent events

A focus of Monday was to bring the entire community into the equation. Some who teach in the district feel without the community’s support, things will not improve.

“We do what we can, but we need the community, the broader community,” said Erica Hunt, middle school teacher with SPPS, who added, “We need to support families – families are doing a great job supporting us – and just work through it together as much as we can.”

District officials say a Crisis Response Team of social workers is available for students.

RELATED: Effects of violent weekend linger in St. Paul

One licensed therapist says violence like the stabbing can cause mental health conditions for all students there, saying schools are often seen as a safe space and seeing crime tape in the hallway has negative impacts.

“When this happens, it impacts your ability to focus and invest your ability to interact with everyone because every interaction is now a potential threat. Is this someone who’s going to hurt me?” said Lambers Fisher, a therapist with Christian Heart Counseling.

Experts say it’s important to tackle the problem from the root to stop unhealthy reactions to conflict before they happen. In addition, creating spaces for kids to talk about their feelings and making sure they feel seen and heard could stop some of those unhealthy, violent reactions from taking place.

Next Steps

A spokesman for the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office said a charging decision isn’t expected until Tuesday at the earliest for the 16-year-old student suspect in custody.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS will learn more about the relationship of everyone involved when formal charges are filed. Those could come as early as Tuesday.

View prior coverage from reporter Brittney Ermon in the video player below.

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