Theo Olson Gets a New Job–and Kid Glove Treatment from the St. Paul Pioneer Press

Could the Author of the Racially Inflammatory Blog St. Paul Parents Protested Last Spring be Taking Over Your Child’s Classroom? Good Luck Finding Out.

Ever have an argument on the phone where the other person yells something accusatory and hangs up? Or the social-media equivalent, where you get blasted and then in the next keystroke blocked?

To be clear, I’m not talking about a debate that ends with an irrefutable mic drop, but the kind of childish shouting match where you know the other guy’s “la la la la la” is meant to cover the fact that he’s shooting blanks.

This is precisely how I felt when I read the slender St. Paul Pioneer Press story with the headline, “Embattled Como Park teacher takes job outside district.” Turns out Theodore Olson, who you might remember outraged Facebook with racially inflammatory, thinly fictionalized stories about his classroom, has a new job.

You know, the guy who gave his student-characters names like L’Vaughnte and Deshawn and—this will hurt—D’Ray. And who then described them beating each other, “whoring trains” and gangbanging. Who posted pictures of student work online, complaining his kids won’t even try.

Where did he get a job? Doing what? Can’t tell you. What happened with his suspension, which followed complaints by outraged parents? Can’t tell you that, either. The six paragraphs that follow the headline are scant on details.

“Theo Olson told the Pioneer Press he is retiring from St. Paul Public Schools and has accepted a different job in education,” the story explains. “He declined to say where he will work….

“Olson ended up losing 10 days’ pay and his special-education assignment at Como,” the item continues. “He could have landed at a different school in the district but opted to leave instead.

“’I chose to leave on my own,’ he said. ‘I would have had a job in the district and I chose not to take it’”

To me, this begs more questions than it answers. Retiring as in drawing a pension? He was previously described as a 16-year veteran, so that seems unlikely. As for the job in education who knows whether we’re talking a classroom position at another school or scoring tests for Pearson.

Insofar as landing in another school, well–maybe. Lots of districts still use a mechanism called forced placement to put teachers they can’t or won’t fire but who no one wants to hire in open jobs.

We don’t know anything about Olson’s status, in fact, other than that he hadn’t been fired at the time of his conversation with Verges. Perhaps he was in the disciplinary pipeline. If he wasn’t? Well, that would be upsetting, wouldn’t it?

(At the same time, upsetting or not would you really be surprised, given that Olson had close friends who were making ugly, racially inflammatory calls for the ouster of the superintendent who suspended him? And who were egging on the school board members who eventually spent $1 million to buy out Valeria Silva?)

As for Olson’s “losing” his Como special ed classroom, well, the generous-to-a-fault interpretation of his behavior was that he was miserable and burnt out. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which his return to the same position would be acceptable.

I’ve been critical of the reporter who wrote the piece, Josh Verges, for being much more deferential to Olson than to the black community leaders who demanded his removal from the classroom. And who was wholly focused not on the outrage of the St. Paul parents who didn’t want Olson’s misanthropy—Olson’s word, not mine—anywhere near their kids, but on trying to prove there was something wrong with district officials hearing out Black Lives Matter.

But even given Verges’ track record, this story is still shockingly scant on facts—especially given that we are talking about a major scandal that generated one headline after another for St. Paul’s newspaper of record.

Of course we don’t know the district’s side of the story because this is a personnel matter. But this story doesn’t even say as much. It simply lays out Olson’s assertion, which is essentially that he came out on top. And Olson was allowed to keep silent about his new job.

Of course no reporter can force an interviewee to divulge information they don’t want to give up, but he or she can certainly decline to run the self-serving part of the story unless they are given the entire context.

Don’t you want to know whether a man who displayed so much contempt for his students is teaching in your kids’ school? Whether a district that would hire him does any reference checks on its teachers? Whether the minimal amount of information in this short story paints a misleading picture?

It’s a pivotal moment for St. Paul Public Schools. We deserve better.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

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