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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Office of Civil Rights to visit St. Cloud on April 14

Office of Civil Rights to visit St. Cloud on April 14

Representatives from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights will meet with St. Cloud school officials and students on April 14 in an effort to further understand what may be happening involving accusations of harassment and discrimination of Somali students.
St. Cloud school district spokesperson Tami DeLand said the meeting is part of ongoing monitoring stemming from a settlement agreement that resolved a previous investigation by the OCR. That stemmed from reports of discrimination in 2010 against Somali students at Tech and Apollo high schools in St. Cloud and elsewhere in Minnesota.
DeLand refuted a statement by the Council on American Islamic Relations in Minnesota that said the DOE was renewing its investigation into the St. Cloud school district.
"(CAIR) met with (Superintendent) Willie Jett last week and said nothing about this, and we have not been informed of anything from the DOE," DeLand said. "(Jett) also spoke last week with the Department of Justice and they advise the OCR. The DOJ only contacted the superintendent offering outreach and resources. The OCR is coming to do monitoring at Tech and Apollo, but that's part of the original agreement from 2011-12. If the DOE is investigating (anything new), they haven't informed us. And you would think the district and the school board would be notified."
The OCR visit April 14 will include interviews of students and administrators. There was no end date in the 2011-12 settlement agreement.
CAIR-MN issued a news release Monday announcing a "renewed" investigation. CAIR-MN Executive Director Jaylani Hussein said his organization also is trying to plan a public forum to talk about the treatment of Somali students in the St. Cloud schools.
On March 18, students at Tech walked out of their classes to protest discrimination. The protest occurred after a student sent a picture via Snapchat of a Somali student in a wheelchair with a caption suggesting that student was a member of the Islamic State, the terror group based in Iraq and Syria.
"We were in contact with (the DOE) right away to let them know about what was happening with the protest," Hussein said. "We have heard from a number of students that in Apollo the students feel their issues are listened to. And at Tech they are not. It seems to be more of a Tech issue from what we've learned with our own investigation."
Hussein said CAIR spoke with St. Cloud students as recent as Friday to get information about conditions in the schools.
Dennis Whipple, chair of the St. Cloud school board, said the CAIR release wasn't fairly written, and the wording was not representative of what has and will be happening.
"The federal DOE is not coming to St. Cloud," Whipple said. "That's a little inflammatory. The Office of Civil Rights is who we're meeting with on the 14th. This is a typical meeting. We've had these before. We believe things are going better and we've seen a great improvement in climate in the schools."
Whipple said the district has created some student groups to gain feedback.
"The learning and information we get from them will enter into this process, too," Whipple said. "I want to assure people that we're working hard to be sure that parents and students, representative of all of our students, have a voice in this ongoing reporting process."
Abdul Kulane, a St. Cloud Somali leader and former candidate for St. Cloud City Council, said Monday he was unaware of any renewed interest by the DOE or CAIR's involvement.
"I had no idea about this and I personally don't favor a confrontation about this issue," Kulane said. "The task force met with (Jett) a couple of weeks ago and we're supposed to be meeting again on Wednesday. We'll see what the proper response will be. I'm of the belief that the community has to be involved. I think we can solve this."
Follow Kevin Allenspach on Twitter @KevinAllenspach. Call him at 255-8745.

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