Election 2015: Write-In School Board Candidate Rashad Turner

So I’ll start by saying that in this situation, I think it’s entirely legitimate to hold it against Rashad Turner that he didn’t file in time to get on the ballot. If something had changed drastically during the race due to a death, a major scandal, whatever, and he jumped in — fine. But that’s not what happened. His answer to “why aren’t you on the ballot?” is “I was encouraged and decided to run for school board after the filing deadline. I missed it by a couple of days.” Although, I have in fact voted for a write-in candidate who jumped into the race because he disliked the person who was running (John Scalzi, when he ran for SFWA president in 2007) but I do think “oh good grief, if you couldn’t decide you wanted to do this in time to file, you don’t deserve the job” is a reasonable attitude.

He’s running a lot more seriously than some of the other candidates, though — he has a website, he has endorsements (from the Green Party), he can take donations and he’s recruiting volunteers.

Rashad is best known for being the most visible organizer of Black Lives Matter of St. Paul. Which means I need to start with a sidebar about BLM generally and BLM-St. Paul. When I talk about BLM over on Facebook, for the most part I’ve just reposted things that other people have said. I’m white, I’m solidly privileged on the issue of cops and how they treat civilians (when was the last time you saw a video of a cop beating the crap out of a nonresisting middle aged white lady?) and I think that solidarity from white people on this issue is entirely called for but making white voices predominant is really not.

But just to be clear about this from the get-go, I think that Black Lives Matter is an ENTIRELY legitimate movement. I am horrified by the fact that black men and women are routinely battered, abused, threatened, and murdered with complete impunity by people to whom we’ve handed over a shit ton of authority and not bothered to check up on. And I’ll note that fixing policing to protect black people is a great example of what I think of as societal Universal Design. Universal Design is an approach to building design where things are made accessible to disabled people but also just better for everyone. If you’ve ever pressed a “door open” button with your butt to get through a door with your hands full, you have benefited from universal design. But if you start with the people who will have the hardest time getting through a door, you can usually guarantee that everyone will be able to get through that door. If we start by protecting the people who are most vulnerable to police abuses, it’s going to get better for everyone. (Well, everyone who is not a power-tripping abusive asshole with a badge. But I’m good with that!)

All that said, I am not convinced that Rashad Turner would be a terrific person to have on the school board.

Rashad Turner

So my first concern is that being an activist and a politician are very, very different. There’s an excellent article about Rashad here, which says that Gov. Mark Dayton had “suggested BLM activists would be more effective if they proposed specific, constructive changes. But Turner said it should not fall to his group to create a list of demands. ‘I don’t feel like it’s our responsibility to focus on something that we didn’t create, as far as policy and legislation,’ Turner said. ‘These people know what the problems are, they know what policies are creating these disparities, these are elected officials.'” From an activist, this is a perfectly reasonable stance. Once you are an elected official you’re suddenly in the position of needing to make those sorts of lists, and craft solutions. With a group of people who may or may not agree with your priorities.

Looking at his web site, there’s stuff I like, stuff I’m super unimpressed by, and — hilariously — stuff that makes me think he should be the candidate of choice for the St. Paul Republicans (but probably won’t be, because so many Republicans have a knee-jerk authoritarian attitude toward BLM. Although a lot of the city Republicans lean libertarian so who even knows?)

From his front page: “I want students to be the primary focus of every decision made in our district — and not the adults — because we as adults should be able to adapt to, and meet the needs of, each and every student we serve.” It sounds like he shares my concerns about the adult-centric focus of the DFL-endorsed candidates.

“I want to keep our district from spending ridiculous amounts of money on things like iPads and other technology that goes unused by our students.” — So, okay. On one hand, I am totally with him on this but on the other hand, for all that the rollout was a complete mess, the iPads are totally being used! The students, from what I can tell, really like them. Admittedly, some of them like them because they make it so easy to play games during their boring classes. It’s not at all accurate to say they’re not being used, though, from what I have heard from the parents, teachers, and students I know in the district.

“I want to make sure we are spending those dollars on what will directly impact our students’ educational experience, like supplies for the classroom so teachers don’t have to spend what little they’re paid to buy supplies for the classroom, and hiring faculty who are truly committed to each and every student — whose ideas and beliefs reflect the demographics of our student body, and demonstrate a mindset that every student can grow, no matter the challenges and barriers that student might face.”

What he’s talking about here is that the teaching corps of the St. Paul schools is much, much whiter than the student body. I would absolutely love to know what Rashad thinks of Aaron Benner, the black St. Paul teacher who got shouldered out and who goes on at length about discipline given that Rashad finishes with, “It’s time to start helping our kids believe, and stop trying to make them behave.” (I have some deeply mixed feelings about that slogan and I’m going to come back to it at some point.)

His Issues page is framed as a Q&A and starts with a question about Superintendent Silva. He says he wants to hold her accountable without making it very clear what that means, and then adds, “I will make sure that Superintendent Silva makes the necessary changes to the Racial Equity Plan so that it is inclusive of ALL students and doesn’t emphasise diversity as simply a black and white issue.” This is an excellent point: people have this tendency to frame diversity in the schools as a black/white thing but there is a HUGE population of Hmong kids in the St. Paul schools and also a lot of Latino kids. With their own sets of distinctive needs and struggles and all the rest. A commenter on an article that ran back in the spring said that Hmong, Karen, and Somali immigrant children suffer the most in seriously disorderly schools, and he may very well be right.

His answers to questions about mainstreaming special needs and ELL kids makes me think he’s not super well versed in what the issues are here — especially his ELL answer. “When you think about the fact that a high percentage of our ELL students speak their native language at home, it is our duty to immerse them into our culture both socially and academically.” — I am raising my eyebrow at that, is he calling for active and deliberate assimilation? “An ELL student who speaks their native language at home and is forced to be isolated when they come to school, is an ELL student that we have failed as a district.” — I’m not sure where he thinks the failure point is here. “ELL students who enter the district at ages where the research shows it is more difficult to acquire a new language should have experiential learning opportunities in addition to being mainstreamed.” — There’s a term used in the St. Paul schools for students who arrive as teens with a dearth of formal education. These kids are often very eager to get a diploma but may not be able to in time, just because there is so much to make up. (Imagine if you had literally never been to school in your life, and you arrive at 16 with no literacy in any language and you have to learn to speak English, to read and write English, and to do something resembling a high school curriculum before you age out at 21. At least one of the DFL-endorsed candidates was advocating for extending these kids’ eligibility for free public education up to age 23. But, there are a lot of good arguments for providing these kids with their own learning environment, and he doesn’t really address it, he just talks about how you should mainstream them because they’re human.)

He thinks the iPads were a waste of money: “Another reason is that even if each and every student had in their possession one of these iPads, it would send the district into bankruptcy trying to pay for repairs when our students’ iPads break or need some sort of repair.” — I thought that the (excessive, IMO) ongoing cost for the iPads was in part to pay for the repairs? It’s a lot of money each year. But it’s already budgeted, it’s not a thing that would send the district into bankruptcy, they’ve allocated the money, unless this was even more stupidly implemented than I thought. (Maybe? SURELY some of the appalling recurring cost is repairs, though, they didn’t hand out iPads with assumption that parents would be able to pay for any damage that occurred, because there are a ton of parents in the St. Paul schools who absolutely could not afford to replace or repair an iPad.)

There’s a question about the disciplinary policy (“Do you support the current discipline policy, or lack thereof?”) and he responds:

I do not support the idea that there is no discipline policy in place or that the Racial Equity Plan itself is the cause of the discipline concerns at several schools in St. Paul. I believe that Superintendent Silva’s bad attitude towards students, parents, teachers, and administration is what lead to a bad climate district wide.

In the current climate there is a lot of frustration from the groups of people mentioned above towards Superintendent Silva. This frustration has been ignored by the Superintendent and current School Board members so I think the climate in addition to a poorly focused and poorly implemented Racial Equity Plan which made a lot of students feel like nobody was paying attention to them, and a lot of teachers feeling unsupported in serving our students.

So this got me to actually google up the Racial Equity policy and while I was at it, a disciplinary policy. The racial equity policy (passed in 2013) is here. The disciplinary policy is a thing you can find on their website and basically says that it’s up to principals to have disciplinary policies for their schools and by the way don’t break the law (there are some state laws about process if you’re going to expel a student.) The disciplinary policies, such as they are, were last revised in 2008, so that’s not in the “current board fuckup” category.

The racial equity policy reads to me like it was written by academically-oriented activists. “To interrupt systems that perpetuate inequities, SPPS will: A. Invite and include people from all races and ethnicities to examine issues and find adaptive solutions, which address the root causes and systems, rather than technical solutions, which provide one-time, situational fixes; B. Develop the personal, professional, and organizational skills and knowledge of its employees to enable them to address the role and presence of racism; and C. Eliminate practices that result in predictably lower academic achievement for any student racial group compared to peers.”

As an activist, Rashad does not want to lay out an agenda: “These people know what the problems are, they know what policies are creating these disparities.” As a school board candidate, though, this sort of nonspecific policy is “poorly focused.” But he

Rashad posted in my neighborhood Facebook group a week or so back (this was very controversial, and annoyingly, a lot of my neighbors are apparently totally fine with people advertising their MLM essential oils but not okay with candidates stopping by to answer questions) and someone asked him about the disciplinary policy issue: “I understand that SPPS went from far too many student suspensions to 5-minute timeouts, with pretty much no preparation or input from teachers or parents. Where do you stand on suspensions?” Rashad’s response: “I do believe we need to do much better in keeping all of our students in class and reaching their full potential. The disparities in suspensions across the district is disturbing. Students should be removed from the classroom and from school for violent offenses. However, despite the medias spin on suspensions in SPPS, most (80%) of suspensions are for non violent subjective reasons. The non violent subjective reasons for students being suspended are what we need to continue to work on and bring to an end. An example of a non violent subjective offense to remove a student from class can be found below in this video” after which he pasted in a link to the horrifying video of South Carolina Deputy Ben Fields throwing a student across the room.

Which is horrifying. But we are talking about the St. Paul schools here, and are there school resource officers who are battering and abusing students in our schools? Because if so, that needs to fucking stop, but talk about those incidents, don’t post a link to that video, because honestly it is not relevant because the issue is “should disruptive but non-violent students be suspended,” not “should disruptive but non-violent students get the crap beaten out of them.” (By the way, from everything I’ve heard, she wasn’t even being disruptive. But even if she’d been violent, nothing about Fields’ response was okay.)

Here’s what I want, in a discipline policy, okay? I’m going to be specific.

* No one should ever get an out-of-school suspension for non-violent behavior. Kids and teenagers are sometimes annoying. Deal with it. Appropriate ways to deal with non-violent misbehavior: time outs. time outs in another classroom. sending the kid to the behavior specialist’s room to calm down. Sending the kid to the principal’s office for a lecture. Missing a fun activity. Having to go to the end of the line. Demerits. Detentions. Losing one of the fun privileges usually available to their classroom/grade. Calling their parents. Bringing in the professionals to evaluate the kid to see if they have needs that are not being met, need services that they’re not getting, need intervention from the teacher to head off problems. THE LIST GOES ON. We do not need to suspend students for non-violent misbehavior. That is not what suspension is for.

* Violent behavior is a different matter, although let’s take a deep breath and not round up every last bit of physical misbehavior to “violence,” because if my white, middle-class daughter did not get an out-of-school suspension for hitting a boy in the face with her soft-sided lunch box when he cut in line in front of her, neither should anyone’s black son or daughter for that same offense. (She did get an in-school suspension for the remainder of the day for that. The only reason she got in trouble was that the custodian came around the corner at exactly the right moment to see her whomp him. More on that in a minute, maybe.) But as a basic principle, if a teacher gets hit, kicked, bitten, scratched, or shoved by one of their students, at minimum, they should not have to deal with that student again for the rest of the day. They should be able to send that kid off with the behavior specialist and get the rest of the day off from that particular miscreant, if they want. (Even if this is a kindergartner. This stuff looks really different if you’re picturing a tiny little kid vs. a high schooler, but that one of the fundamental problems here is that when the kid is black, they are a HELL of a lot more likely to get treated like a violent high schooler even if they’re THREE.) Violence is grounds for suspension. Violence that happens repeatedly is grounds for expulsion, or for moving you somewhere better suited to your unique needs.

* Students have a right to feel safe in school.

* Calm, reasonably orderly spaces in schools benefit everyone.

But let’s talk about Molly again. Molly had a really bad second grade year. She hit, kicked, shoved, punched, and on one occasion bit her classmates. She had an in-school suspension, an out-of-school suspension, an eval… things improved when I stopped letting her eat anything with red dye in it, when we found out about the daily bullying on the bus and took care of it, and when one severely disruptive student in her room was moved to another school. But her behavior problems didn’t fully resolve until we moved her to another school, in fourth grade, at which point … they vanished. Because now, she was in a calm and orderly environment where the adults were enforcing the rules, so she no longer felt like she needed to use violence just to protect herself.

I’m going to bring up one final detail I read about Rashad in one of the articles about him: he had a domestic violence arrest.

Based on my personal observations, both as a parent and years ago as a student, one generalization I would make is that in a really disorderly school environment, it is the girls who suffer the most. They are more likely to check out rather than disrupt, which means that they get none of the concern and care and attention that disruptive kids get at least some of the time — they’re not creating problems, so they are left to their own devices. They are also more likely to be physically in danger. In an anarchistic school environment, the girls are more likely to get physically assaulted and intimidated.

The black girls, of course, get it coming and going. They suffer extra from the disorderly environment but the people who are allegedly supposed to provide order are not people they can trust either, and I’m not going to link to that video but probably you’re all picturing it in your heads right now anyway. She’s hardly a unique case. Black girls nationwide are suspended six times as often as white girls (it’s a 3:1 ratio with black boys and white boys) and are excluded from a lot of the efforts to address the school-to-prison pipeline.

But saying “we need to stop worrying about whether our kids behave” seems like a surrender to the forces of anarchy, and I particularly distrust that attitude coming from a man who has been arrested for domestic violence. We need a fair and equitable environment. We need to make goddamn sure that we’re not disciplining the black kids more harshly than the white kids for the same offenses. We need to have a sense of proportion about ordinary teenage misbehavior, like cell phones in class, or gum, or all the 8 million other things that are only a problem because they are teenagers and we feel like we need to be in charge. (Have you ever worried about someone flipping you out of your chair and throwing you across the room because you checked your cell phone during a meeting? No? How about for chewing gum?) We need to provide a safe environment for our kids — they need to be safe from the small number of violent and aggressive other kids, and from adults who shouldn’t be working with children if they can’t cope with garden-variety annoying kid behavior.

One more point on Rashad’s policy ideas. Asked about budgets, he says: “I’m the type of person who goes shopping with about every coupon from the Sunday paper in my cart, which illustrates the fact that I love to and have to save money. I don’t feel that we need to continue to ask for more money from you, the taxpayer, because like myself you are probably also looking for the best coupons available in the Sunday paper. Instead, we need to manage our districts money more effectively. When elected, I want to go line by line through the budget and eliminate any dollars being spent that do not have a direct impact on our students’ educational experience and opportunities. I want to make sure that our budget is prioritized on what’s best for students, and not spending money on big corporations to come in a not produce any results for our students.” — I’m very curious which corporations he’s talking about here, whether it’s Apple and the iPads, or if this is a reference to Minneapolis’s stupid expenditure on that godawful reading curriculum, or if he’s complaining about PEG. (PEG = Pacific Education Group, a consulting group that came in to do training on racism and privilege.)

But, you know — seriously, Republicans, maybe you should vote for this guy! I did not see a single DFLer say that they were going to go line by line through the district budget to look for the waste they could cut! For that matter, I didn’t see the lone Republican say that, either, since he has no website or campaign materials that I could find!

I would actually really be in favor of this approach. The big districts, Minneapolis and St. Paul, actually have more money per student than most other districts in the state, and they also have the largest class sizes. And yeah, they have more ELL students and other stuff they need to deal with but they also have bloated and pointless bureaucracies and the boards hate cutting them. Some of those people in the administration do super important and valuable stuff and some of them do jack all. Figuring out which ones are which is the tricky part, but if someone’s eager to tackle the job…

There are too many red flags here, though, from really not knowing that much about some of the pressing issues to the discipline stuff. I am not going to vote for him.

As a final note: you are welcome to post comments about whether Rashad would be good or bad on the St. Paul school board. We’re not going to have a conversation about the basic legitimacy of the Black Lives Matter movement. We’re also not going to get into BLM-St. Paul’s tactics in general. I realize that there is some overlap here, but if I think you’re not making a good-faith effort to stay on topic I will delete your comments.


2 thoughts on “Election 2015: Write-In School Board Candidate Rashad Turner

  1. 2022 note to self: Rashad Turner now runs the MN Parent Union and in that capacity has been harassing and encouraging the doxing of Greta Callahan, one of the leaders of the teachers’ union in Minneapolis (MFT 59).

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