Feb 15, 2023 - News

St. Paul weighs new safety measures following fatal school stabbing

police outside harding high school

The scene outside Harding High School following Friday's stabbing. Photo: Aaron Lavinsky/Star Tribune via Getty Images

St. Paul leaders are exploring new security measures in schools, including possibly reinstating police at buildings longer term, following Friday's fatal stabbing of a 15-year-old Harding High School student.

Driving the news: City, school and law enforcement officials addressed the plans during a press conference Tuesday, the same day second-degree murder charges against the 16-year-old student accused of killing Devin Scott during a fight were announced.

Zoom in: Charging documents released by the Ramsey County Attorney's Office Tuesday describe a chaotic scene as a hallway argument between students quickly escalated into a fistfight and the eventual stabbing of Scott on his first day at the school.

  • Staff intervened to break up the altercation, but backed off when they saw the alleged killer reach into his pocket, per the documents. School security arrived less than a minute after learning of the incident.

Catch up fast: The St. Paul Board of Education voted to remove police officers, known as school resource officers or SROS, from schools in June 2020, as many large districts across the nation reevaluated their relationship with law enforcement following the murder of George Floyd.

Yes, but: Concern about violent incidents, including at Harding, is prompting officials to bolster security measures.

What's happening: The district has already temporarily brought St. Paul police officers back to five schools, including Harding, while officials see if they "can redefine what a formal partnership looks like," St. Paul superintendent Joe Gothard told reporters Tuesday.

What to expect: Instead of walking the halls as SROs previously did, the officers will be on standby for times when a swift police response is needed, Gothard said. Developing strong relationships and open lines of communication with staff, potentially even by radio, will be key.

  • "We're relying on calling dispatch for support [and] sometimes the timing of that really puts us at a huge deficit," he said, noting that dismissal at large campuses is an area of concern.

What they're saying: SPPD chief Axel Henry said an effective school safety response must go beyond the traditional SRO model and include existing crime intervention programs and the city's Office of Neighborhood Safety.

  • "The old model was [in] a different environment. We're not looking to go back and turn on a light switch," he said. "The current model obviously, is something that we need to improve. So we're gonna build that future model."

The other side: St. Paul Federation of Educators president Leah VanDassor expressed concern about a return to officers in schools, telling MPR News that "armed personnel does not seem like the right way forward."

Of note: Gothard said there aren't formal discussions at this point about adding metal detectors, in part because they don't have the equipment.

What's next: Classes remain canceled at Harding today and tomorrow, per SPPS. Students are expected to return Friday on a modified schedule.

  • "It will not be a normal week, it will not be a normal semester, for the hurting community," Gothard said. "It won't."

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