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Black teacher's lawsuit: District retaliated after I criticized lax discipline for black students

Aaron Benner, a former teacher at Saint Paul Public Schools, filed a lawsuit against the district, saying it retaliated against him for criticizing lax discipline for black students. (Image source: KARE-TV screenshot)

An outspoken black teacher filed a lawsuit Thursday against Minnesota's Saint Paul Public Schools, saying the district retaliated against him for criticizing a policy that calls for disciplining black students less severely than white students.

Aaron Benner's federal lawsuit — which also alleges racial discrimination, KARE-TV reported — notes that he spoke out against the district's racial equity policy at a May 2014 school board meeting. At the time, he was the only black teacher at Johnson Elementary School, the station said, citing the suit.

Benner maintained that failure to hold black students accountable for behavioral issues led to further instances of acting out, KARE noted, citing the suit.

"Dr. King would be very disappointed because here we are 51 years later and the concept of the matter at hand is skin color," he said at the 2014 school board meeting, which the suit quotes, the station reported.

Then — after 14 years of a clean disciplinary record as a district employee — the lawsuit claimed Benner was subjected to a series of investigations the following school year, KARE reported.

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The lawsuit states Benner faced his first investigation after an incident in September, 2014, when he witnessed a 4th grade boy punch a 4th grade girl in the face, knocking her out cold. According to the lawsuit, the girl was taken to the school nurse, and Benner reported the incident to the principal. But when Benner called the student's mother two days later to check on her condition, the suit claims the mother knew nothing of the incident. The mother called the school, upset she hadn't been notified about her daughter's assault, according to the lawsuit. After that phone call, Benner was subjected to an investigation and disciplined, the lawsuit states.

Later that school year three more investigations were launched against Benner, while disorder in his school continued, according to the lawsuit. Benner was punched, kicked and assaulted by students on three occasions later that school year, and little to no disciplinary action was taken by the district, according to the lawsuit.

In June 2015, Benner spoke about the issue to Bill O'Reilly on Fox News, also outlining his problems with the Pacific Educational Group, which worked with the district on mandated "white privilege" training for all teachers.

Benner — anticipating he may get fired — resigned from the school district in August 2015 and took a job at Community of Peace Academy, KARE said, citing the suit. That same month he filed a discrimination charge against the district with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of Discrimination and Harassment, the station said, citing the suit.

Last month, the Saint Paul Department of Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity sent Benner its findings, of which KARE got a copy. It stated "there is probable cause for discrimination based on race and retaliation indicating that [Saint Paul Public Schools] violated the Saint Paul Human Rights Ordinance as [Aaron Benner] had alleged," the station said.

Benner asked for $260,000 compensation for two years' salary, but he said district officials didn't show up at an April meeting arranged by the Saint Paul Human Rights Department, after which Benner filed the lawsuit, KARE said.

The station noted that it asked the district for comment, but a spokeswoman replied that it doesn't comment on pending litigation.

(H/T: EAGNews)

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