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Somali community calls for outside probe of incident at Champlin Park

  • Article by: Paul Levy
  • Star Tribune
  • May 28, 2013 - 8:57 PM

 

Outraged Somali community members have demanded an independent investigation of an incident in which they say a Champlin Park High School teacher choked a Somali student while restraining him after breaking up a classroom fight.

Two dozen members of the community, including the ninth-grade student’s mother, met Tuesday with district and school officials at the school and called for the firing of industrial arts teacher Joe Hall. At a news conference afterward, they said the 14-year-old student was arrested after the encounter early this month, and suspended.

“This is bullying, plain and simple,” said Ahmed Hirsi of Ka Joog, a Twin Cities-based Somali youth organization. “He choked the kid. Why weren’t the police called?”

Dennis Carlson, superintendent of the Anoka-Hennepin School District, said he planned to ask the school board at its meeting Tuesday night about approving an outside investigation.

Somali and Anoka-Hennepin officials say they believe the incident took place May 3. Two videos, apparently taken from student cellphones, have circulated on YouTube.

Hall said Friday that a fight had erupted in his classroom between two students. He said he was “breaking up the fight” to ensure “student safety and security.”

One video, which lasts 36 seconds, shows the physical confrontation between the students, with Hall breaking it up http://www.startribune.com/a2276. The second, 55-second video [http://www.startribune.com/a2277] shows Hall grabbing the Somali student by the head. As another student yells, “That’s enough, Mr. Hall,” the video shows Hall using a headlock to freeze the student and then placing him in another wrestling-like hold.

“Are you done?” someone, apparently Hall, is heard yelling to the student. “Sit right there.”

The school’s investigating team has interviewed several students who witnessed the incident, said Mary Olson, spokeswoman for the School District.

“We did not see that it was a racial issue,” Olson said, noting that the students interviewed “did not bring that up.” She said she could not discuss the internal investigation or whether any disciplinary action was taken toward the other student in the fight, citing data practices.

“We have to be really careful about judging anything on a 55-second video — not just the teacher, but the student,” said Julie Blaha, president of Anoka-Hennepin Education Minnesota, the district’s teachers’ union. “I don’t think you can judge something on limited information.

“ A fair, thorough investigation makes sense.”

The student’s mother, Faduma Hassan, was clearly frustrated after the hourlong meeting with school and district officials.

Of the district, she said, “They don’t want to talk about it all,” she said. “My son is at home, thinking he’s expelled. He’s afraid to come to school.”

Somali community members reported the incident to the Council of American and Islamic Relations in Minneapolis. CAIR-MN has called for an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education.

 

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419

 

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