A federal civil rights office will visit St. Cloud Technical High School next week in the wake of claims by Somali students that they've been harassed for their religion, dress and culture. The students walked out of classes twice last month in protest over what they said was the administration's weak response to their concerns.
The visit from the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights will bring together administrators and student representatives, said district spokeswoman Tami DeLand.
News of the meeting was welcomed by a spokesman for the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
"Somali students from St. Cloud Technical Senior High School that we spoke with have reported a number of incidents of harassment and bullying by students targeting Somali students," Jaylani Hussein said in a statement issued Monday.
About 100 students walked out of classes March 18 at Technical High School after learning that a white classmate had posted a picture online of a Somali student and suggested she was part of the Islamic militant group known as ISIL. Other Somali students complained that students spat on them, knocked coffee cups out of their hands, jumped on the cafeteria tables and stomped on their lunches or told them to go back to Somalia. A second walkout erupted two days later when students said they felt the administration was not doing enough to stop the harassment.
The St. Cloud School District has been operating under an agreement with the Office for Civil Rights since 2012, after a Somali student's complaint of harassment led to a federal civil rights investigation. The agreement required that the district make its schools more welcoming to Somali students, but found that the district broke no federal rules in handling the incidents of alleged harassment of Muslim students at two St. Cloud high schools.
Next week's visit is a continuation of that agreement, said DeLand.