The St. Paul, Minnesota, school district has agreed to pay $525,000 to a former teacher who said he was retaliated against because he openly criticized the district for failing black students with its lax discipline policies that did not hold them accountable for disruptive behavior.
Aaron Benner, 50, currently an administrator at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul, filed a federal lawsuit in 2017, arguing the district retaliated against him by investigating him four times during the 2014-2015 school year, reported the Star Tribune.
Benner, however, had never been investigated prior to that school year, when he and four other teachers pressed the school board for higher standards of behavior for students and greater consequences for those who are disruptive, regardless of their minority status.
Benner, who is black, said the school district’s discipline policies, based on a desire to reduce racial disparities, had actually failed black students by not teaching them there are consequences for disruptive behavior.
Teacher Rebecca Friedrichs’ organization, For Kids & Country, produced a video in which Benner told his story, specifically about how he felt betrayed by his teacher’s union.
Friedrichs, the author of Standing Up to Goliath: Battling State and National Teachers’ Unions for the Heart and Soul of Our Kids and Country, was the plaintiff in the 2016 Supreme Court case Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, in which she and another teacher claimed a First Amendment right to withhold financial support from a union whose positions they did not share.
He continued that while he had no problem paying union dues, he was concerned about “racial equity policies that were being implemented to lower the suspensions of African-American students.”
Benner said he ultimately became aware that his union negotiated for the new equity policies. When he began to be charged with infractions, he said he waited for an entire year before his union representative asked him “to plead to an infraction she knew” he had not committed.
Additionally, Benner said his union representative told him the union president would be “forced” to write a statement against him.
It was then that he took his story to national television and began to speak out about the school district’s race-based discipline policies.
A recent court ruling allowed Benner to seek punitive damages when the case went to trial.
Additionally, U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson said Benner “presented a credible case for race discrimination and for being retaliated against for speaking out against a policy he believed to be illegal,” reported the Tribune.