Students walk out for teacher at Open

Several dozen students walk out of Open World Learning Community school on St. Paul's West Side Monday, April 25, 2016 to protest a popular teacher at the school not having her contract for next year renewed. (Pioneer Press: Scott Takushi

Several dozen students walk out of Open World Learning Community school on St. Paul’s West Side Monday, April 25, 2016 to protest a popular teacher at the school not having her contract for next year renewed. (Pioneer Press: Scott Takushi

Around 60 St. Paul students walked out of class Monday, April 25 to support a teacher known to be an advocate for students of color, who is losing her job for “ineffective” instruction.

Open World Learning Community students carried signs and chanted “equality and justice for all” as they started  off on a two-mile march to Rice Park soon after 10 a.m. Monday, April 15.  Their aim was to reverse their principal’s decision to dismiss the social studies teacher Sarah Dickhausen, or at least to bring attention to the school’s poor way of treating minorities. “The entire time I’ve been here, there has not been a teacher who’s stood up for me like Sarah,” said eighth-grader Ed Diatta, who is African American.

Dickhausen told students Friday that her contract was being terminated for ineffective instruction. Dozens of students soon went to meet with Principal David Gundale, but were left unsatisfied with his explanation as of why her contract was terminated.

With the students preparing to protest, Gundale emailed families Saturday to say he couldn’t discuss the teacher’s employment because of privacy laws. Students would not be disciplined for protesting, he said, but they would receive an unexcused absence, and would not be allowed to return to school Monday or to ride school buses back home.

In the email Dickhausen wrote to families Sunday, in the letter, Dickhausen  brought up concerns about racial tensions at the school to Gundale in December but received no response. Then she found out she had received a inadequate rating on her performance evaluation. “It was clear to me that I had touched on a subject that was off-limits or that was not ready to be dealt with,” she said.

She was first hired in 2013, by SPPS, to teach adults at St. Paul Public Schools’ Hubbs Center. She also taught at Harding for a year but due to financial cuts she was cut from her position and she elected to transfer to OWL.

In the letter she wrote she said, “I blame myself for not being able to find the balance in teaching to my students and being supportive to my students. I am one person and I was taking on more than I could handle, and I see now that it has contributed to the loss of my career in SPPS and the loss of a beloved teacher to many of my students.”

Several students and parents complained Monday of low expectations for OWL’s students of color. Lanaya DeRungs, a mother who has a daughter at the school said, “Blacks feel alone in this school.”

Before the walkout Monday, a school district leader, and facilitators of OWL’s racial equity student group, also met with students to discuss Dickhausen’s dismissal and the environment at the school, a district representative said. Those conversations will continue in the coming weeks, she added.

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