Harding High School students return to more security a week after stabbing death

Note on locker
Staff at Harding High School in St. Paul left notes of encouragement on students' lockers for students returning to class Friday.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

When students at Harding High School in St. Paul return a week after 15-year-old Devin Scott was fatally stabbed in a hallway, allegedly by another student, they’ll see handwritten Post-It notes on their lockers, that say “peace and love,” and “we love you,” all written by staff.

But many parents say they are still apprehensive, and that they’ve long had concerns about behavior and safety problems at Harding.

Shawn Davenport said his daughter, a senior, plans to rejoin her classmates this morning.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t nervous. But she’s wanting to come back. I’m glad they took the time to get this right, so I’m hoping there’ll be some changes so things like this won’t happen again,” Davenport said.

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The first day back after the killing will not be a normal day of classes for Harding students.

District officials told several hundred parents gathered in the school auditorium Thursday evening that 20 additional counselors and facilitators will be on hand. Principal Be Vang said students will meet in small groups throughout the day, and should expect to see more chaperones in the hallways and bathrooms.

Lisa Kaste who also has a senior at Harding, says her daughter is angry that increasing violence at the school led to a student’s death. Her daughter enrolled at Harding for its Native American language programs. But she’s had negative experiences there with being bullied and seeing other students making threats and using drugs.

“My concern and my daughter’s concern is that as Anishinaabe people, we chose this school so that she can learn her language, because our language was taken away,” Kaste said. “But she’s learning it in an environment of violence. And that’s unfortunate for Native American people.”

Kaste said the district should install metal detectors at Harding and provide wellness classes so students who are struggling with emotional problems can learn how to ask for help.

Chanel Rockymore believes behavior problems at Harding have worsened in the time since her older daughter graduated in 2018. Her younger daughter is now a sophomore at the school.

“It has really gone downhill since then,” Rockymore said. “I hear about more violence in the school. I know that there has been more violence in the school, obviously.” 

When she went to talk to school staff about threats to her daughter, Rockymore saw a student in the building who’d supposedly been suspended over the incident.

Rockymore said administrators have been slow to communicate when there are lockdowns because of violence, so she relies on her daughter for critical information. She calls the district’s new safety plan for Harding vague.

“Not enough detail. Not enough time frame. I want a timeline. I want to understand things better.”

Superintendent Joe Gothard said this week that St. Paul police will be on standby outside Harding and four other large high schools through Friday, and Harding now has a third full-time school support liaison to help with security.

The 16-year-old student who allegedly stabbed Devin Scott last week remains in the Ramsey County juvenile detention facility. Authorities are seeking to have him prosecuted as an adult, and a judge has set an adult certification hearing for March 15.

The St. Paul Federation of Educators released a statement Thursday saying that the St. Paul Board of Education needs to call an emergency meeting to allow parents, students, teachers and others to address what the union terms “inadequate SPPS school climate policies” that fail to control violent behavior. A regular school board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday.