Minneapolis superintendent settles federal discrimination complaint

Emma Pederson, Staff Writer

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On February 14th, 2013, two to three hundred South High students were involved in a cafeteria fight caused by growing racial tensions in the school. This past year the Minneapolis Public School’s district have taken action to address the root of the problem.

“I don’t think there’s much change since that February 14th,” remarked junior Samira Mohamoud. “ I don’t want to say that it’s [tension] gotten worse, but the problem from February hasn’t gotten dealt with. I feel like an outcast in this school, we’re [Somali students] always being talked about. It makes us seem like we’re doing something that we’re not supposed to be doing, all the time.”

On September 25th, Minneapolis Public School’s Superintendent, Bernadeia Johnson, signed a deal with the Department of Education and the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) that addresses the discrimination of Somali students’ in MPLS Schools.The terms of the settlement were released the following day, Friday the 26th.

Following the incident on February 14th, several Somali South students complained to the school about harassment, but it was never dealt with. “The Somali students complained to Minneapolis Public Schools for change that was long overdue,” said senior Mohamed Jama, president of the Somali Student Association, “…Somali students at South High school were mistreated and unfairly represented by the school. They felt as if they were voiceless among the school’s very diverse student body.”

The following month, CAIR filed a complaint with the Department of Education against Minneapolis Public Schools.

The terms in the settlement include: reviewing school policies, providing training to staff and students about harassment, creating student committees that discuss these issues and make suggestions for change, conducting climate surveys, and an anti-harassment statement.  “Essentially we’ve agreed to do these actions, and to not only do them but show that we’re doing them by following up. It’s along the lines of anti-harassment, anti-bullying, having groups that deal with the issues at the root of the conflict, like s.t.a.r.t., and have a place where people can talk about these things,” said South High’s Equity and Racial Diversity Coordinator, Ethan Dean.

The district is required to investigate all written and oral reports of harassment, on the basis of race, color and national origin, and record what disciplinary actions were taken to solve the complaint. If the district fails to meet the requirements, the Office of Civil Rights can take legal and administrative action in the schools.

“They should have conversations about it, to have all of us, not just one person, sit down and actually talk about the situation. I feel like that will help all of us,” said Mohamoud. “S.t.a.r.t. has been here for a very long time. They were here during the riot, they know what’s going on.” South High’s s.t.a.r.t. stands for students together allying for racial trust, and has been instrumental in the past at bringing together the South High community to talk about issues with race.

“We can start by educating both the staff and students about the real Somali students, and break the ice that has formed to separate the student bodies,” said Jama. Students at South are ready to start the healing process, and with the new arrangement, a resolution is in sight.