Our VoiceNews & Politics

Harassment of Somali Students in Minnesota Investigated By Federal Agency’s Office of Civil Rights

Garat Ibrahim • Jun 08, 2010

Saint Cloud, Minnesota has been in the news lately because of the daily hostility Somali students faced at school. Among the complaints: an “I hate the Somalians at Tech High” Facebook page, bacon shoved in the faces of Muslims as a provocation by students who know Islam forbids the eating of pork, an inflammatory essay about Somali Muslims posted on an English class blog, and even student complaints of mistreatment by teachers.

As a result of what many believe was a failure of school administrators to address the complaints, the federal government’s Department of Education will now investigate the matter.

More than eight accusations were filed with the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights by the Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

The complaint file by CAIR in March alleged that Somali and Muslim students were harassed about their race and religion and the education spokesman recently said the civil rights act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race and national origin by recipients of federal money such as public schools he also reiterated that the complaint they received from CAIR alleges that there has been discrimination in schools based on national origin.

As a result, the Saint Cloud School District finally took the initiative to investigate the accusations.

The District released a report looking into 14 complaints, but it differed widely from the original complaints of harassment and is viewed by many as misguided. It didn’t help matters that the school board and administration did not communicate the outcome of their findings with Somali parents - furthering the chasm of mistrust between the Somali community and school administrators. In the past, parents’ main concerns were that the teachers were disciplining or suspending their children from school without the parents being informed of the circumstances. Secondly,there is an achievement disparity between students of color and white students that parents have been trying to address.

Somali students have organized more than one event in an effort to bridge the cultural differences and create dialogue between students of all ethnicities in the schools.

One of the events was well-attended by parents, teachers and the community at large. But intercultural dialogue only goes so far. A point that continues to be ignored is that the issue at hand is about race. School teachers and administrators not grasping this has a lot to do with their failed approach to addressing the harassment.

The news of a federal investigation brought relief for many Somali parents in the area. Regardless of the outcome, they believe the situation can only get better as it is brought out in the open.

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