News & Events

President Denise Rodriguez’s Statement on School Climate

Written by Saint Paul Federation of Teachers, in News

Statement from SPFT President Denise Rodriguez:

This year has been marked by too many instances of assaults on students, teachers and other staff members in the halls and classrooms of our schools. Our students experience many challenges in the world outside of our schools – poverty, structural racism, lack of access to mental health care, and the experience of trauma; we have to make sure that students do not experience added trauma inside their schools. We will not wait any longer for action by our district’s administrators.

Last week a teacher was seriously injured by a student at Central High School while he was trying to break up a fight. Starting this weekend and over the last few days, I have had ongoing conversations with the teacher to find out how he is doing, to hear about the assault directly from him, and to offer any supports he may need. I reminded him that teachers contractually have 5 days to recover—physically and emotionally—when assaulted by a student and that those days do not come out of sick time. His response was similar to what I’ve heard from other teachers who have been assaulted at work: rather than thinking of taking care of himself, he was worried about being away from his classroom too long and about the instruction his students will miss.

The Saint Paul Federation of Teachers is fighting for changes teachers and parents have said, time and time again, are necessary to make our schools safe for students and staff and to end the racial predictability of disciplinary outcomes:

  • The necessary additional staff, time, and resources to allow schools to meet these needs and adopt a restorative approach to school climate
  • Adding social workers, counselors, nurses, and school psychologists
  • Proper staffing and common preparation time for our special education and ELL staff so that they have the time and means to make inclusion work
  • Meaningful district support, in the form of time and funding, for parent engagement so that classroom teachers can expand their work with parents and build the collaborative relationships necessary for strong school climates
  • Smaller class sizes so that strong relationships can be built with students

We believe that parents and teachers need a say in decisions about school climate. We believe that racial disparities in discipline will not decrease in our buildings without parents and teachers sitting down together to share perspectives and develop solutions. Through our School Climate Improvement Teams (SCITs) the two groups of people who know our students best —parents and teachers—have the opportunity to create school climate policy. We have proposed that the district provide these committees with funds that they can spend on needs they see in their individual school buildings. We have also proposed that students, where appropriate, be allowed to participate directly in these conversations.

Instead of empowering teachers and parents and acting now, leadership at the Saint Paul Public Schools has decided to create a committee and a new department to study the problem of school safety – The Department of School Climate and Support. Instead of moving supports into buildings, another layer of bureaucracy is going to study the problem.

Seven months ago, when our union’s teacher bargaining team made its proposals on restorative practice, parent engagement, support for school SCIT teams, and adequate staffing, we hoped district leaders would recognize the urgency of the crisis facing our students and educators. In November, after the voters of St. Paul delivered their own message about the need for change, we hoped district leaders would be moved to act. To date, the district’s proposal to form a committee and study restorative practices is the only response we have received to these proposals.

Tonight, our union has filed a petition for state mediation. This step is required by state law to trigger our teachers’ right to strike. Teachers don’t want to walk away from their classrooms or their students but if our school climates are not safe and equitable environments for learning, that is a step our members may need to take. We can wait no longer.


Denise Rodriguez

SPFT President


  • Karen Palmen December 9, 2015 Reply

    Denise, I am ready and willing to strike for school safety!

  • Susan Nelson December 9, 2015 Reply

    You brothers and sisters at Hibbing United Educators are by your side. Peace and healing to all.

    Susan Nelson
    President HUE

  • Jeremy Myers December 9, 2015 Reply

    As a parent, I support this completely.

  • Donna Yu December 9, 2015 Reply

    Thank you Denise.

  • Anthony Coggins December 9, 2015 Reply

    As a teacher in Michigan, I support you 100%. Schools need to be safe for everyone – students AND staff. As the saying goes, drastic times call for drastic measures. Something has to force change to benefit all.

    Best of luck to you.

  • Gena domangue December 9, 2015 Reply

    Stop making commitees. Keep the staff & students safe, if everyone can’t agree this is best for society then there can’t be a functioning society.

  • catherine December 9, 2015 Reply

    We need to start making our kids respect teachers and other students. THIS HAS GOT TO STOP .. all this crazy stuff

  • Lisa Boehlke December 9, 2015 Reply

    Bravo, Denise, members of the Executive Board, and the dedicated members who provide engaging opportunies for St. Paul Public School students to grow academically and emotionally! Denise, your cogent analysis lays down the necessary next steps. Requesting mediation before a possible strike vote demonstrates the seriousness that our schools must be safe places. It saddens me, once again, that the recognition had to come because of injured staff and the acknowlegement of a 60 % increase in student violence over the 5-year average from the Ramsey County Attorney, Mr. Choi. Schools need all the support you listed, not more talk!

  • Daniel D. Maurer December 9, 2015 Reply

    I stand behind our teacher’s union to make the best decision possible, not only for the sake of the students, but also for the safety of a treasured resource—our teachers.

  • Dave Surath December 9, 2015 Reply

    I taught school for thirty-nine years,and like Mrs Rodriguez states,school districts create more levels of bureaucracy to deal with a problem.Teachers should be in charge of their classrooms and students and not some “progressive” committee.Any time a student or parent tried to assault me,they paid a heavy price and were not so tough, after they saw I was a dove with sharp claws.

  • Jane leRoux December 9, 2015 Reply

    100 percent behind you and the teachers union.

  • Hannah December 9, 2015 Reply

    What can we as parents in this community do to actively support teachers and demand our voices be heard and that appropriate resources are implemented immediately across the board? Mn government is bragging about this billion dollar+ surplus and legislators attempting to determine where to allocate the funds. Here’s a perfect example of one direction they should be looking.

  • T.J. Johnson December 10, 2015 Reply

    As a parochial school teacher who graduated from Concordia University, just down the street from Central High School, and did student-teaching at one of the magnet schools in St. Paul, this makes me very sad. I hope there is a way that teachers and students will feel safe so that learning can increase and the students’ full potential is seen. There are mental health issues in many, many schools (including parochial schools) and I can empathize with the St. Paul teaching community. I hope that parents and teachers can work together to return power to the teachers and that positive learning environments will be created once again.

  • Matt Peulen December 10, 2015 Reply

    Thank you for taking a stand for students and teachers and the need for basic safety that every school should be able to provide. What student or teacher can meet their potential when worrying about their safety instead?

  • M Bolus December 10, 2015 Reply

    I am not an educator, but support this action for the safety and instruction of all students. Strike and hold out for nothing less than a solution to the crisis.

  • Alicia December 10, 2015 Reply

    As a teacher in Illinois, I support you. Hopefully change will come and students will continue to be well served by your dedicated teachers.

  • Matt Tebbutt December 10, 2015 Reply

    It’s time for parents to be a bit more involved in the educational and behavioural process. It is not up to the State, County, or Municipality to teach students how to behave in an educational setting; both patents and students should be acknowledge that a public education in MN would be seen as a privilege in most societies in our World. Why do we accept and rationalize the misbehaviour of students to the detriment of the common good?

  • Shirley Holm December 10, 2015 Reply

    Very thoughtful and well stated, Denise. Keep up the great work!

  • Greg King December 13, 2015 Reply

    Phenomenal list of demands aimed at helping students in crisis better cope and giving teachers the tools and time they need to do their jobs. Thanks for not using this as an opportunity to criminalize students.

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