comScore

Teachers criticized by Black Lives Matter removed from St. Paul Como Park High

"My family has endured hate speech going on three months," says Theodore Olson.

"My family has endured hate speech going on three months," says Theodore Olson.

Two longtime Como Park Senior High teachers who drew the ire of Black Lives Matter St. Paul this year have been removed from their positions.

Theo Olson, a special ed teacher of 16 years, caught heat this March after writing controversial Facebook posts complaining about cell phones, drugs, and the lack of student discipline at Como Park High.

Later, Black Lives Matter St. Paul published extensive excerpts from a private blog Olson had written, which were offered as further evidence he was not qualified to teach non-white students. 

Rashad Turner of St. Paul BLM interpreted Olson's writings as racist against black students, and singled Olson out as the “epitome of a bad teacher,” and “an example of a white supremacist teacher.” He threatened to "shut down" the school if Olson was not fired. The protest was only called off after Superintendent Valeria Silva met with BLM and promised a standard investigation into Olson. Olson was ultimately ordered to complete racial equity training and disciplined with docked pay.

Two weeks ago, Olson received a notice that he would not be allowed to teach at Como Park next fall. The letter stated, "Administrative transfer does not imply that you have engaged in any misconduct," but "it is in the best interests of the district."

Because Olson is under contract with St. Paul Public Schools, he will be reassigned elsewhere in the district by mid-June after he finds, applies, and interviews for his next position. 

Rashad Turner, center, led the charge to get Olson removed from Como Park High School.

Rashad Turner, center, led the charge to get Olson removed from Como Park High School.

"Probably the worst thing was to lose contact with my students and colleagues at Como, and seeing my reputation damaged," Olson said in a statement. "My family has endured hate speech going on three months. After 16 years, participating in Saint Paul initiatives to lower the egregious disparities between white students and students of color, English language learners, poverty, special ed, disability, and reaching out to GLBTQ and transgender students, it's been a nightmare to be characterized as insensitive in any way, racially or otherwise."

Around the same time that Olson received his transfer letter, Como Park home ec teacher Kathy Farm was also told that she would be forced to leave next fall. Farm has worked for St. Paul Public Schools for 19 years, including nine at Como Park. 

Farm's troubles began in January, when she bought a shirt for a fundraiser for the girls basketball team. It came with the logo for the Prevention of Domestic Abuse and the message "Love Shouldn't Hurt" splashed across the front. When the shirt arrived, Farm noticed that it had a female student's name printed on the sleeve. Farm asked the basketball players whether the girl had been abused at home and was told no — she'd actually had her back fractured by Mall of America security in December after getting thrown out for violating curfew.

Farm says because she's licensed to teach family and consumer science, which includes issues of domestic violence, she took the teachable moment to explain to the girls that an altercation with mall security was not the same thing as domestic abuse.

Word spread, and a rumor took root that Farm believed the girl deserved to be beaten up. Members of BLM St. Paul repeated that claim to superintendent Silva and in various Facebook threads, where Farm was also criticized for supporting Olson throughout his investigation. 

Farm denied ever condoning violence against students. A fellow staff member who witnessed her conversation with the basketball players backed her up, testifying in an email to HR, "Kathy and I were both explaining to her that incident she was describing wasn't domestic abuse ... This student/athlete was voicing very strong on how it was domestic abuse, and how it was wrong and it was taped and we could watch it ... and Kathy was educating her on how the MOA incident was different from a domestic abuse incident. I tried to remind her of how we talked about this in class."

The subsequent district investigation of Farm found no evidence of wrongdoing. Nevertheless, Farm was told this month that she would not be welcome back at Como Park. 

"I love Como students and I respect my peers," Farm says. "This appears to be retaliation and harassment."