Trapped!: Chaos In The Classroom

Ep. 1: The high stakes of low expectations

April 20, 2023 Alpha News Season 1 Episode 1
Trapped!: Chaos In The Classroom
Ep. 1: The high stakes of low expectations
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Show Notes Transcript

Harding High School’s 15-year-old stabbing victim was a visible sign of the decay in Minnesota public schools.

Devin Scott, who was stabbed to death in the St. Paul high school this year, was a troubled student being passed from school to school. 

“A generation ago, a kid like Devin Scott would never have been in school. He would have been expelled before he ever got to Harding High. So how did he end up there?”

Alpha News journalist Sheila Qualls asked that question on the first episode of her podcast, “Trapped!: Chaos in the Classroom.”

In this limited podcast series, Qualls talks to parents, students, cops, administrators, and teachers to examine the problems in Minnesota's public education system.

In this first episode, she looks at the high stakes of setting low expectations for students.

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St. Paul is in shock tonight after a student was killed in a stabbing at Harding High School. Sadly, Harding is no stranger to violence stabbing happened Friday it was in the hallway of Harding High School, Devon Scott died at the hospital. In February, Devon Scott was stabbed to death at Harding High School in St. Paul. He was stabbed in the stomach and once in the chest. Devon was 15. It was his first day at Harding high. He just been transferred from another St. Paul High School. Now one kid is dead. Another is facing murder charges. Devin was a troubled kid. Sources say he was involved in gangs and drugs. He had a history of problems in the public schools. A generation ago a kid like Devin Scott never would have been in school. He would have been expelled before he ever got to Harding high. So how did he end up there? Devon's death is a visible symptom of the decay in public schools. from Moose Lake to Farmington, public education in Minnesota is broken. What was once one of the most trusted institutions in the state is now treacherous. violence in schools is functioning much like COVID When the pandemic hit in 2020. Suddenly, parents all over the country were in their kids classrooms, as they were taught on Zoom. Some educators are blaming COVID for learning losses, calling it the COVID slide. Kids are falling behind in their academic progress because of the pandemic. Now we can see this clearly in the data. McKinsey study shows that already students have lost an average of 6.8 months of learning so far, COVID didn't cause learning loss. It exposed it yanked back the curtain on what is going on in classrooms across the state, much like what violence is doing now. With more and more reports about school violence, parents are taking a closer look at what's going on when their kids are sucked up into the vortex of public schools. I'm Sheila quals. I write for a Minnesota based news outlet called Alpha news. I've written a series of articles on ideologies, policies and practices that allow violence, misconduct and low performance to go unchecked. For the past six months, we've been examining public education. I've interviewed teachers, parents and students. I've talked to people who study education in Minnesota. I've looked at curriculum and school websites. I've contacted the Department of Education, the Minnesota School Board Association, the teachers, union, and administrators. I'm going to paint a picture of what is going on in our schools and why not in my words, but in the words of teachers, students and parents who are in or around public schools every day. 1000s of Minnesota families are trapped, held hostage by a system that is shaped by misguided and irresponsible policies and practices that are at odds with traditional values. The threat of losing our children is real. Most teachers and parents spoke with us on the promise of anonymity. Small details have been changed to protect students identities. They fear retaliation, dissent is not tolerated. Disagreement is voiced only in whispers. Throughout this series, I'm going to show you everything from why kids can't read to why they have to worry about getting stabbed at school. This is trapped chaos in the classroom. There's chaos in Minnesota Public Schools. Chaos that administrators don't report teachers and staff are afraid to talk about and parents don't know about the murder at St. Paul's Harding high didn't happen in a vacuum. Violence and low academic performance are rampant in schools across the state. I would see on kids a snapshot stories, children just brawling in the middle of the hallways, punching each other over and over. Teachers standing there watching and teachers too afraid to stop it. Why now? It hasn't always been this way. Kids are not learning the skills they need to become functioning adults, because the focus of our schools is not education. What's happening in public schools looks a lot like education, but it's not. schools are failing kids. But the education establishment continues to lower expectations. Accountability has disappeared. This creates conditions ripe for poor performance and disrespect. And that's exactly what's happening. Kids swear at teachers refuse to turn in assignments, texts during class time. Play games on their phones. hold conversations while teachers are talking and then dare them to discipline, families are taking note and some of them are taking action. Minnesota Department of Education reports public school enrollment has declined for a third consecutive year. I don't know I don't have an answer you would think data like that would force us to shift back. Reading math and science scores are in a freefall, and show no signs of improving. It's really hard to be an older teacher. Today, we see our numbers of our kids math scores, and our kids reading scores and science scores that aren't even on par. And Minnesota had one of the biggest drops, I think, in the entire country, when we used to be the mark key of what people strove for in education, right. And now we're we had one of the biggest drops. Our kids getting dumber, quite the opposite. Kids are as intelligent and inquisitive as they've always been. Public School is not what it used to be, things have changed so dramatically, so quickly. It's a crazy time. I mean, I just, I can tell you story after story. officer Mark Ross is president of the St. Paul Police Federation. He is also a former school resource officer or SRO. He grew up in St. Paul and graduated from St. Paul Public Schools. He said schools are failing in more ways than one. That was an SRO from 2010 to 2014. Fortunately, I was in a great building, a lot of really good teachers that actually helped me break up fights, and it was required. I mean, let's be honest, these are kids and and part of being an adult, is intervening when kids are doing or doing things they should not be doing. And so when you have people in the building, willing and capable of intervening when there's a physical fight, I mean, I think that's something that should have I could tell you that if my student was in a fight, and there was, you know, somebody, staff member, school staff member who's capable of at least attempting to break it up and break it up. I mean, I would take exception to that. Not intervening in those situations can get really dangerous really fast. I've heard stories from parents in Burnsville, moose, Lake, Delano, Farmington, South Washington County. So tell I, Santee and many more, not just one, but dozens of stories from angry, frustrated parents all over the state, who are not quite sure of what to do. But the reality is, from a safety perspective, they just have to know that that these kids are generally speaking, not being dealt with. And there are a lot of dangerous kids in these schools. They're engaged to kill behavior on a regular basis. They're not being held accountable for the behavior, and the behaviors being allowed to being allowed to continue. And so that makes for a very dangerous experience for people that don't even know they're in danger. And that's really the sad part. I mean, it was amazing to me, how oblivious a lot of the students were to us. I mean, obviously, they don't want to fight occurs, you know, you see that. And I don't know, I don't even know how prevalent physical fighting is in the schools now, because I don't think they're reporting it very often. More. I can't tell you how many times over the last several years, parents have called and said, you know, my student was assaulted in school today, and nobody called the police, they got home and Toy Story, and now I'm calling the police. There's no way there's no way I would sell my children, all schools. Most problems are not as visible as violence. They're much less obvious and emerge over time. But issues have been quietly brewing beneath the surface for decades. That's like you want to jump into something might get shot and kill him. It's like crazy, giving each other it's not normal. In some high schools, kids don't go to class and rove the hallways instead, teachers and students are afraid to go to the bathroom while class is in session. Recently, I talked to a teacher that said that for over a year, she didn't feel safe going to school, she felt safer in her room with the door shot. She said to me that I wouldn't want to even go to the bathroom because I knew that there were going to be students out in the hallways that weren't supposed to be doing the stuff that they were doing. Fights are common in the lunchroom. Some parents report kids threatened to murder other kids. Instead of expulsion. Violent kids now get administratively transferred. It's like a bad game of musical chairs. Violent kids rotate from school to school until they eventually graduate or just stop going. That's how Devon ended up at Harding high. Ross said there's no control in the high schools. And what happened at Harding was predictable. But those administrative transfers are the are the root of the problem. So administrative transfer really means a bad kid, typically, or kid that hasn't been able to function at another school. What they'll do is they'll say The okay things aren't working at work, they're not working for you anymore, we're going to transfer you over to another high school. Well, that creates another problem because for every kid you transfer all that administrative transfer, you get one back end. So it's like this game of musical chairs. These kids go from school to school to school, and they don't function at any of them. And the problem is, all these kids know one another, especially the kids that are in the mix, whether it be they're in a gang, or somewhere from the neighborhood or another neighborhood or their relatives at another school, but everyone knows everyone, whether it's a gang issue or something on social media. And I can tell you, there were times that Como Park High School when I was a school resource officer, where we get to a point where we finally got a couple kids are recruiting tons of problems for us out. Next week. We get new, two new kids in that were just as bad or worse because the way that they administratively transfer kids. Violence has surged since school boards removed cops from schools. After the death of George Floyd. They said the presence of a gun and a badge made some kids uneasy. I used to keep my car parked to the front of Cole Park I school right the front main entrance that was parked my car at the time superintendent Valeria Silva came one day and said, Why is your car parked there? I'm like, Well, I have a lot of equipment in there. And I needed access to it. There's an emergency and I don't have to walk, you know, three blocks to the parking lot. And to be honest, it's the turn to crap people see the squad car, they're less likely to commit a crime here. And a lot of people in the community telling me that make makes them feel really safe. Just because well, I'm hearing just the opposite. I'm hearing that makes people feel comfortable. That's That's true. So can you find me and this is me, a police officers I'm at the time I'm not in a management role in the police department. I'm just the lowly school resource officers, you know, these administrators would would view it. And so I pushed back on the superintendent of schools that I would push back on her, some kids may feel uneasy about police presence, but many more are uneasy about the lack of discipline and accountability. Those students are paying the price for bad policy, rather than actually put some meaningful work forward and try and change those things. They change the way that they dealt with discipline. So they would allow the same behaviors. Previously, those behaviors would result discipline but no longer. So they would say, you know, look at this, we've had this massive reduction and suspensions and dismissals and arrests and we're doing so great. In fact, they actually tied building principals bonuses to those numbers. So those folks that were dismissing suspending least amount of students were being rewarded financially, slightly, I mean, through a financial incentive, they actually kind of started to create this. But we're at a point now where there's just no control in the high schools, and they have kids wandering the halls. There, it's I will say disrespectful things if anyone tries to hold them accountable, and they basically do what they want to do all day long and don't contribute at all, to the well being of the of the culture of the school and actually detract from it. Kids used to take books and gym bags to school. Now, an increasing number of them take weapons, and administrators find some, but not all of them. Kids, faculty and staff are no longer safe. I would hate to even know how many guns there are in the schools on any given day. So do you honestly think there are quite a few? Yes, impossible to know the number but I know that they you know, they recover a few guns every year. Those are just the guns that are recovered. Whether it be a lot of times is a tip from another student or maybe something that's posted on social media. But yeah, those are just the ones that have recovered. So you know, how can we if a kid brings a gun to school in a backpack? How would you how would you know? In January, a 15 year old kid was arrested with a gun at Harding, where administrators had found at least three guns the year before. Hurting isn't the only St. Paul School dealing with violence. A kid was seriously wounded in a shooting outside of rec center near Central High and a bullet grazed a staff members ear during an after school shooting at a St. Paul magnet school. Ross said his children would have been fourth generation graduates from St. Paul Public Schools. He moves his family because he does not want his kids in the district. That's sad. I'm saddened by what's happened in the St. Paul Public Schools. It's heartbreaking to me like I said, I was a third generation from my family to graduate from St. Paul Public High School and unfortunately, we weren't able to continue that tradition in my family. But we started a new better tradition, I think. Brilliant going, can you tell me your name and which school you go to? My name is Anthony and I go to White Bear Lake North Campus. And what grade are you in? I'm in ninth grade my freshman. This is Anthony. He's a freshman at White Bear Lake North Campus. Anthony's a BS student. He likes baseball and is kind to his little sister, I spoke with Anthony and his mom and at their home, therefore, it was just a big shock. I feel like everyone in ninth grade now can say that high schools, nothing like that tell us it's going to be because they prepare us for things that don't actually happen are going to happen. So what did they prepare you for? That didn't happen? Um, well, they prepare us for things just like the atmosphere and the teachers like the grading in the school. And just like how everything is going to be, and just like how high school sets you out for the rest of your life, and college and things like that. But really, what they should have been preparing us for is just the atmosphere of the students. And out of the students all treat each other. And the things that go on there that you just see, and that they just tell you to not look at. So what types of things do you see that they would say don't look at, we see fights pretty frequently, two to three weekends. And then every time we ask something about them, they just say it's being handled, it's being handled, and to just blind diet, look away from it. And I think it never happened. And I don't think that's good. And I feel like we should definitely talk about it. Definitely speak out. Because we can't just ignore someone getting punched in the face on the ground. At noon, at high school, I just don't think that's not how things should be handled. When and learned Anthony was being assaulted by another student on the school bus. She contacted the school. It started about last winter. My boys rode the bus to and from school together. And my younger son said, Anthony got hit on the bus today. So I didn't think too much about it. Because they asked me as a kid to stand up for himself and he wouldn't hold me. And then it happened again. And he said, Anthony got hit again. Anyway. So I told him, I'm going he said, Well, you need to go and call the office. He's an eighth grader. So I said, You need to tell the school, you know, it's time for you to talk the school song. He's and he repeatedly will get off the bus, go into the office at the school and tell them, hey, there's an issue on the bus and you talk to somebody and they'd say, Oh, hurry on the class. And they wouldn't even listen, hurry on the class. He said it went on for a whole week about hold on the bus, he'd go into the school and follow him. And he just would say, Oh, periana class, White Bear Lake administrators told and they were handling it. So I sent an email to the principal after a week. And she responded and said she would take care of it. But then I didn't hear any follow up. So I asked her a follow up. And the boy was never removed from the bus. I then followed up myself and called the principal and said, I would like to know that he was disciplined, I would like him off the bus, I would like him, not near my boys. And then she told me she couldn't discipline talk about another kids discipline with me. So I never got any follow up. I don't know where I went with this boy, but he never was removed from the boss or the classroom, like many parents, and is frustrated. As a mom, it makes me feel pretty helpless. Because at first I told him, you know, you're gonna be in high school next year, and you can stand up for yourself, you can report this to the office, and then the fact that I then had to go and report it, and it still went on deaf ears, it made me as an arm feel very helpless. They have to be in school every day, they have to ride the bus to get there and I couldn't protect him. Anthony is frustrated too. It just makes me feel doesn't feel good to just see someone getting pummeled in the face. Or just like getting thrown against a lock or something or being called names. It just just doesn't feel good. So what happens to the kids who are the perpetrators? We don't know, because they don't tell us anything. And we're not allowed to ask anything. And if we did ask, then we get questioned by like the teachers and things there. So we're not really sure. It's like, I'm trapped. Like everything's trapped inside me because I can't talk about it. The high school seems to be pretty tough. You're just supposed to not talk to, you know, not talk to people you don't know and just stay in your own lane. And it seems to be a lot of fights. I mean, with the o's and cameras around, the kids often will share videos with me. I mean, I'm seeing new videos. It's almost a joke because the boys coming to my house after school. There's a group of high schoolers that ride the bus together and they come here after school and I can just overhear them talking about it, but it's almost daily. And then there doesn't seem to be much discipline or any thing for the students that are causing these issues. When I talk to parents about what I've learned in schools, they say one of two things. They either say I had no idea or that's not happening in my kids school. It's happening in most schools all over the state. The question is why? You are recording today with I'm talking to Becky about her daughter who goes to central One Middle School Central Middle School in in White Bear Lake, Minnesota. So I had a child that was in middle school. And while she was there, she just had been doing some light horseplay in class with some of her friends. She ended up being suspended for that incident. Her daughter was routinely assaulted by another student. After repeatedly asking the administration to intercede, Becky said she got no results, she transferred her daughter out of the district. So when we went to the school, we did ask why there wasn't any fear of punishment being done. Because our daughter had received such harsh punishment, we thought for something that seemed to be very minor. So when we went to the school and asked, they didn't have any response for us, they told us not to worry about it, that it was getting taken care of, that they can't give us any information. And that was essentially the end of it. My student says that she's afraid to go to school, she feels like she's going to be jumped. She's worried about the boss, she's worried about even entering the school she's worried about walking in, she's worried about being in the bathrooms alone. That's something that just isn't done anymore. It's not a safe place for students. So from what the girls have said, they really do have to gather in groups to even use the restroom safely. They do see a lot of things like vaping and drug use within the bathrooms. And it just doesn't seem like the school is doing a lot to handle those things. There was a group of us that did unite and go into principle and try to talk to her about this and say we want something done. When there was nothing done and the incident continued to occur. That was when we just decided it was no longer a safe place for our child to be and we felt like it would be best if we move her to a different district. Hopkins High School is in the West Metro. The situation there is similar. Last fall during a fight in the girls bathroom. Students watched as one girl kicked another in the head until she was unconscious. Hopkins was Minnesota's first school of excellence. Parents say fights there occur almost daily. Violence and poor academic performance are chasing parents out of the district. Cell phone recordings of fights dominate Snapchat and Instagram. in Little Falls, a special ed student was sexually assaulted during the lunch hour. One student recorded while the other assaulted him. They released it on social media. I wanted to file assault charges. And they told me that I couldn't because it was a fight. I spoke with Kathy Johnson in the playroom of her daycare center. And she told me about an assault on her grandson. She refers to him as her son. Kathy's kid attended Blaine High School where she said three boys walked into her son's classroom and attacked him during class. It all started on March 24 2022. I received a call from the assistant principal at the high school, read boys had entered the classroom from the hallway. While the class was in session, surrounded his desk and beat him. They just kept on beating him and pounding his head up against the desk. And he's got braces. So as braces were broken, he had all kinds of cuts and welts inside of his mouth. He had glasses that were broken, they were they flew. The teacher yelled and screamed and tried to pull the boys off of them. The boys then posted the assault on the Blaine Fight Club Instagram page. The page has since been taken down. One of the boys had videotaped the assault and was passing it around the rest of the school body. These boys had gone into that classroom, knowing that they were going to get in trouble and put the kids in the classroom at risk as long as as well as the teacher. Although her son had to be taken to the hospital and treated for his injuries. He was expelled from school. He's never gone back. I called the School Board. And they just thanked me for bringing it to their attention five times in about five minutes and I knew that they weren't going to do anything. And so when I had talked to a police officer again telling him I wanted to press charges. He said he couldn't because the school wouldn't allow it. We've had multiple assaults occurring at the school. The attack was traumatizing and left Kathy feeling angry and helpless. So he left his friends. He was the victim. But yet he was treated more harshly than the kids that assaulted him. And I don't I don't get it. What kind of a boy is your son? Good students. Tell your story. My grandson was he's my grandson is the word of the court which came in we got legal custody of you. And the day that we had the final papers signed, the church told us you keep them safe. Because he was in such an unsafe environment where he was. Do you think that makes me feel? I sent him to school where he thought he was safe. It hurts could No kid should ever go through that. And for adults to be the problem, or at least part of the problem, and not even try and train to even be part of the solution. I'm appalled. absolutely appalled. Though the assault took place on school grounds, school officials and the school board took no action. So Cathy press charges. her grandson's assailants were convicted of a fifth degree assault and placed on probation. If schools don't report or keep records of an assault, Officer Ross said the only way to document an incident is if parents go to police. Events like the murder of Devon Scott are waking parents up to the fact that there's a problem. What's changed a lack of consequences. officer Mark Ross, but when these kids never have to face the negative consequence, it gives them this kind of false sense of, you know, they feel like Superman when they can do anything and they're not going to be hurt, it's not going to hurt them. And there's going to be any head adversary, you know, adverse consequences to their behavior. So, yeah, I, again, a lot of these kids just being prepared for failure from day one, never any consequences. And that's part of it. It's, you know, again, as a society, I don't know why things have gotten so violent. Everything from swearing at teachers to fighting to doing or selling drugs and bathrooms goes unpunished. Teachers and staff have no control because there are no consequences for anything. But inaction produces results. Teachers like families are exiting the profession in droves, and those who can't afford to are abandoning public education. This is Steve severance. He's a former teacher in St. Paul Public Schools. I substituted a lot of districts before I got a job in 1980. And then I ended up at St. Paul St. Paul Public School System and stayed there for 37 years. He retired in 2014. After an incident in his classroom. We have one kid, he was expelled from Central. His brother got in a fight at lunchtime. Teachers tried to break it up. This kid almost killed John. He was a teacher at math teacher, strong built guy you know, the kid rammed his head into the cement post two or three times. John ends up now with the brain concussion I disjointed walking issues because the brain injury with it all. Got nothing out of the district other than fired. interference. He said the profession has changed. Seven said no one should be surprised by what happened at Harding, the gang boy that got killed it's unfortunate I'm here visiting game one child should lose their lives. However, I feel that the district from the superintendent from the Ministry of Chief Academic Officer and the school board are responsible that there was a actions to protect these kids. They kicked out the police officers in St. Paul. They said it intimidates and Tory torturous the kid kids seen them in uniform. Principals thought this again to please our schools already and Central, particularly, teachers were not happy. So now we don't have cops. However, if you go to the administration building full security everywhere, you can't get into any office, you had to talk to the people check in. And so this is interesting that the administration protects themselves, that they don't protect the students in the building. Millions and millions of dollars are being poured into the public school system. But Minnesota kids are being cheated out of a basic education. And most parents don't know. How did schools get so out of control? Why are so many teachers struggling to control their classrooms? If public schools aren't teaching kids how to read? What are they doing? Administrators in many districts in this state are pushing a single agenda? It's not a coincidence. And it's not a parent led agenda. The violence, lack of discipline, and lacks academic standards are merely tools to reach a larger objective. And it's harming kids. I wanted to do this podcast because I discovered kids are being robbed of a basic education. And I thought parents deserve to know. And our kids deserve better. I believe I know the key to fixing this problem. But first, we need to know where it came from, what is wrong with it, and why? Families need to know they are not trapped. They hold the key to education, freedom. The whole thing is so upsetting that it continues to go on and everybody looks the other way. Why do you think that is? Because I think it's such a hole that nobody? What are they going to do? They can't depend on anybody in Minnesota Department of Education or Minnesota, Minnesota Department of Human Services or the Minnesota Department of Child Safety. Where do you start? But we have so many highly educated people in Minnesota and in our school district. And they can't figure it out. This is Sheila Qualls and you are listening to trapped chaos in the classroom. Listen to episode two to find out what teachers are saying and the key to fixing our education system. In the next episode, I want to tell you why public education is failing our kids and putting everyone who participates at risk. Trapped is a podcast from Alpha news is reported by me and produced by Kendall Johnson of underdog films, editing by Karen Sullivan. Back to checking by Anthony co kowski and Greg Poulos. Our theme music is by Kendall Johnson. We have four more episodes coming. You'll be able to find them on our website, subscribe at alpha