Protest erupts at St. Paul school board meeting over teacher's online posts

Protesters confront Jim Endres
Protesters confront Jim Endres, right, after Endres spoke out in support of teacher Theodore Olson at a St. Paul school board meeting Tuesday night.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

At a St. Paul school board meeting Tuesday night, protesters denounced a Como Park High School teacher who made controversial posts on Facebook and his personal blog, shouting down someone who tried to speak out in support of the teacher.

Some parents say the postings by Theodore Olson are indicative of hostility toward students of color.

On his Facebook page, Olson expressed frustration about a lack of classroom discipline saying, "Since we now have no backup, no functional location to send kids who won't quit gaming, setting up fights, selling drugs, whoring trains, or cyber bullying, we're screwed." In another post, he complained about campaigns "to deconstruct adult authority in my building by enabling student misconduct," and asking how teachers should be blamed for "the school-to-prison pipeline."

Organizers with Black Lives Matter St. Paul had threatened a "shut down" of Como Park High School unless Olson was fired for the posts.

Olson was put on administrative leave and the protest called off after Superintendent Valeria Silva met with Black Lives Matter St. Paul organizer Rashad Turner.

But this week the group revived the controversy and published online dozens of pages from Olson's personal blog, which had been public but is now private.

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Organizers say Olson's blog posts, which include stories of a fictional high school teacher, show contempt for students.

At Tuesday night's school board meeting, about a dozen people, including students and parents, denounced Olson.

One woman said reports of other Como Park teachers wearing "I support Theo" buttons in school are particularly troubling.

"How is that child supposed to trust what they're saying when they're supporting somebody who's publicly slandering them, calling them whores?" she said. "I hope it hits you just as hard as it hit me when I heard how he was talking about our children."

But Jim Endres, a substitute teacher who does not work in the St. Paul district, said Olson should not be vilified for expressing frustration about discipline problems.

"I have never met a teacher anywhere that wouldn't give the shirt off of his or her back for his kids," he said.

But halfway through his comments, about a dozen opponents of Olson shouted Endres down.

The tension in the St. Paul School district comes in the wake of three attacks on teachers. On March 4, a student hit a Johnson High School teacher in the back of the head while the teacher was breaking up a fight.

Five days later, two students allegedly punched a Como Park teacher and threw him to the ground.

And Central High teacher John Ekblad is suing the district after an assault by a student in December. Ekblad's attorney says his client suffered a traumatic brain injury.

Silva, reading from a prepared statement at the school board meeting, said these widely reported incidents of violence and controversial social media posts do not define St. Paul Public Schools or Como Park High School.

"The principal and his staff could have already easily given up. But they're not," she said. "They are committed to doing the difficult work that our students deserve."

A St. Paul Public Schools spokesperson said Olson remains on administrative leave. Reached by phone after Tuesday night's meeting, Olson declined comment.