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Teacher suing St. Paul district says she was fired for supporting students of color

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

ST. PAUL — A former teacher with St. Paul Public Schools claims she lost her job because she advocated for students of color.

Sarah Dickhausen, who taught at Open World Learning Community, sued the school district Friday, Aug. 11, in Ramsey County District Court. She wants her job back and more than $75,000 in damages.

Dickhausen, who is white, was notified in April 2016 that she would not be brought back the following year because of "ineffective" teaching. About 60 students walked out of school to protest the decision.

Dickhausen said n the complaint that when she started working at the grades 6-12 school in 2015, she was "shocked by the lack of diversity."

She said many district employees placed their children at OWL and that school administrators afforded special privileges to white students, allowing them free roam in hallways, field trip opportunities and even raising their grades.

Dickhausen said students of color told her about bullying from white students and staff, and being suspended for minor infractions.

The teacher said Principal David Gundale told her in a meeting about her performance that OWL "is a white school, it will continue to be white, and there is nothing wrong with being white."

Gundale, she said, suggested she'd fit in better at a school like AGAPE, which serves pregnant teens, or Gordon Parks alternative school.

Gundale and the school district declined to comment Monday, Aug. 14. The district typically does not comment on pending litigation.

White students comprised 53 percent of OWL enrollment in 2015-16 and 21 percent districtwide. OWL students of color were suspended about 3.5 times as often as the school's white students.

Dickhausen alleges the school district violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act by retaliating against her for associating with students of color and opposing discriminatory practices.

Charlotte Parayno, a former security guard at OWL, is suing the school district and Securitas Security Services on the same complaint.

According to the complaint, Gundale was assigned to teach some classes but directed Parayno to "babysit" for him. Dickhausen said she often checked in on the classes because they had no licensed teacher.

Parayno says she was reassigned as a security guard at a different school because of her association with Dickhausen. She had to quit, she said, because she was unable to get transportation to the new school.

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