Theodore Olson, a high school special ed teacher in St. Paul, Minnesota, was suspended after making controversial posts on Facebook that drew the ire of Black Lives Matter activists
Parents have rallied behind a St. Paul high school teacher after he was suspended for controversial Facebook posts slammed as ‘racist’ by a local Black Lives Matter group.
Theodore Olson, a special education teacher at Como Park High School in St. Paul, was placed on paid administrative leave on March 9.
His suspension came just two days after the city’s public schools superintendent met behind closed doors with a Black Lives Matter activist who lobbied for the teacher to get fired over the Facebook posts.
Supporters of the teacher have called for the resignation of the superintendent.
In early March, Olson wrote two Facebook posts complaining that school officials were ‘deconstruct[ing] adult authority’ by ‘enabling student misconduct’ and failing to crack down on the use of electronic devices in the classroom.
According to the education blog Citizen Ed, Olson was directing his complaints at St. Paul public schools superintendent Valeria Silva ‘for enforcing a plan to mainstream special education students and reduce racial disparities in school suspensions’.
‘Anyone care to explain to me the school-to-prison pipeline my colleagues and I have somehow created, or perpetuated, or not done enough to interrupt?’ Olson wrote in one of the posts.
‘Because if you can’t prove it, the campaigns you’ve waged to deconstruct adult authority in my building by enabling student misconduct, you seriously owe us real teachers an apology. Actually, an apology won’t cut it.’
The second post went on to discuss the use of electronic devices:
These two Facebook posts were made by Theodore Olson in early March. On March 9, Olson was suspended with pay for unspecified reasons
Rashad Turner, a Black Lives Matter organizer in St. Paul, Minnesota, had this reaction to Olson’s Facebook posts
‘There have always been rules for “devices,” and defined levels of misconduct. 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, just designing our own classroom rules.’
The Facebook posts were spotlighted March 2 by St. Paul Black Lives Matter organizer Rashad Turner, who slammed Olson as a ‘racist’ and a ‘white supremacist teacher’ for his comments.
The next day the city’s Black Life Matter organization threatened to ‘move with forward with a shut down action, no negotiations, no deals’ if school administrators didn’t fire Olson.
THEO OLSON SUSPENDED AFTER CONTROVERSIAL FACEBOOK POSTS
March 2: St. Paul Black Lives Matter activist Rashad Turner slams Theodore Olson as a ‘racist’ for his Facebook post questioning teachers’ role in the ‘school-to-prison pipeline
March 3: St. Paul BLM activists threaten to ‘shut down’ the school where Olson worked unless he was fired over the Facebook posts
March 7: Turner and superintendent Valeria Silva meet behind closed doors and the ‘shut down’ is called off
March 9: Olson is suspended for unspecified reasons
March 11: Olson’s supporters start a petition to have Silva resign as superintendent for her reaction to the controversy
March 22: St. Paul BLM activists publish annotated excerpts from Olson’s private blog
On March 7, Turner met with superintendent Silva in a closed-door meeting to discuss the issue, a conversation Silva called ‘productive and positive,’ according to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press.
The meeting reportedly resulted in the ‘shut down action’ being averted:
‘I am thankful that Mr. Turner has chosen to discontinue any immediate protests planned at Como Park Senior High School,’ Silva said.
Two days later, Olson was suspended. Asked for the specific reason why, the St. Paul School District supplied the following statement to Daily Mail Online:
‘Saint Paul Public Schools is aware of Mr. Theo Olson’s comments on social media. The District is currently conducting an investigation. Mr. Olson is on administrative leave.’
The suspension led supporters of Olson to launch an online petition to have Silva resign from her post.
In the petition, organizers allege that Silva has proven unable to lead the school district, in part for failing to stand up to pressure from the Black Lives Matter movement:
‘[Silva’s] inability to make changes to benefit the teachers and students include, but are not limited to, rapid increase in violence towards students and teachers; the lack of support for teachers; the removal of disciplinary actions for violent students, and the lack of transparency between her and protagonists such as Rashad Turner,’ petitioners wrote.
‘The position that Silva currently occupies requires someone that can stand up to those who want to disrupt schools by illegal protests, and fosters respect for the teaching institution.’
The petition had garnered almost 1,500 signatures as of Tuesday.
Rashad Turner, left, lobbied for the suspension of Theodore Olson, right. Olson, a high school special ed teacher, was suspended on March 9 for unspecified reasons
At a meeting two days after Olson’s suspension, some colleagues and parents met to show support for the teacher.
‘I could see a lot of people were misconstruing what [Olson] said, and I stand for the heart of what he posted, that school climate is a major issue in St. Paul Public Schools and it is not being addressed,’ parent Jane Sommerville told the City Pages newspaper.
‘He meant to say there just isn’t enough support from the school district and administration. There aren’t the social workers, the counselors, the support staff, or a discipline policy that is effective for schools,’ Olson’s friend, retired teacher JoAnn Nathan, said.
On Tuesday, St. Paul Black Lives Matter activists planned to address a meeting held by the Saint Paul Board of Education. The meeting is not specifically organized to discuss Olson’s case, although there will be an opportunity for ‘public comment,’ City Pages reported.
This video was reportedly filmed at Como Park High School in St. Paul March 9, the day Olson was suspended from the same school. It shows teacher Mark Rawlings getting beat up by two 16-year-old boys, who were not his students. The teenage suspects were charged with assault, the Minnesota Star Tribune reported
Coinciding with the evening’s meeting, the activist group published 60 pages of annotated excerpts from a private blog authored by Olson.
‘This should help you understand why we found his FB posts problematic. Is this the type of person you think is fit to mentor our future?’ the group wrote Tuesday morning.
The blog appears to be mostly focused on Olson’s grievances regarding how the school district is run, and features semi-fictionalized accounts of fights involving students, written in a stream-of-consciousness style the teacher described as ‘about as messy as my head.’
Describing fights on school grounds, Olson frequently tries to approximate the vernacular of the students that inspired the blog posts.
Commenters including Citizen Ed interpreted the language to mean that Olson is referring to ‘black, Native American, and in once case, Asian’ students,’ although, as City Pages noted, ‘it’s not easy to find any smoking-gun evidence of overt racism against his students, or other non-white people.’
This excerpt from Theodore Olson’s private blog was published by St. Paul Black Lives Matter activists on the group’s Facebook page Tuesday. The annotations were made by the Black Lives Matter group
In one post titled ‘School’s greatest hits’ Olson wrote about ‘a series of true school fights I remember from Minneapolis and Saint Paul schools. I’ve changed the names.’
‘I’m hoping that by throwing them up here on this blog, I talk straight to the reader’s sensitivity about how much fighting goes on, and just get people to ask why,’ he continued.
Among the many fights described in the post, Olson wrote:
‘Michael constantly running it on Christopher, “He-wear-a-diaper gon’-cry-about-it,” Christopher “black-as-black-gets,” and Christopher saying, “You better watch your mouth.”‘
‘This should help you understand why we found [Olson’s] FB posts problematic,’ wrote Black Lives Matter activists upon publishing the excerpt from the teacher’s blog pictured above. The annotations were made by the Black Lives Matter group
Later in the same post, Olson wrote:
‘Large, smiling, 10th grade L’Vaughta, and his EBD gangbanging cousin Stinson, needed cash money. They stalked and cruised the small-stature Karen crew around the ELL room at the high school.’
‘One of the Black boys, they forgot who, maybe Leshawn, had said the Karen crew had come up on him in the bathroom while he was peeing, and surrounded him, although no punches were thrown.’
In another post, Olson appeared to be addressing the dynamic between white teachers and non-white students:
‘If the only way for you to do better is for me to fit my big forehead into a pointy white hat, then we’re both in trouble,’ he wrote.
‘We’re in trouble. I know we’re both cornered, you, young Black man, I, old white dude teacher. It’s debatable what I could impart to you. You’re the face of the future; I’m the face of reflection.’
Efforts to reach Olson for a comment were unsuccessful. In a Facebook post, his wife Karen Olson defended her husband against accusations of racism and called the campaign against him ‘slander and prejudice.’
Turner could not be reached for a comment.
St. Paul, the capital of Minnesota, is over two-thirds white, with an African-American population of 13.5 percent. Asians make up 12.4 percent and Hispanics roughly 9 percent.
THE SCHOOL-TO-PRISON PIPELINE, A DISTURBING NATIONAL TREND
Nationwide, African-Americans represent 26% of juvenile arrests, 44% of youth who are detained, 46% of the youth who are judicially waived to criminal court, and 58% of the youth admitted to state prisons, according to NAACP.org