Mohammed Dukuly made a dramatic recovery Thursday, no longer in need of life support, sitting up in his hospital bed and smiling two days after he was beaten unconscious by a student at the school where he worked.
Dukuly, whose condition improved from critical to serious at Hennepin County Medical Center, said he couldn’t remember what transpired the day he was assaulted at Harrison Education Center, an alternative high school in Minneapolis.
“Thank God!” Dukuly murmured. “I don’t know what happened to me. I’m starting to know things for myself. Thank God!”
As Dukuly continued to heal, Corey David Burfield, 18, of St. Paul, made his first court appearance in Hennepin County District Court. Burfield, who is charged with one count of first-degree assault and one count of third-degree assault, was released without posting bail after District Judge William Koch concluded that he is not a flight risk.
Burfield must submit to electronic home monitoring and can have no contact with Dukuly, Koch ruled. Burfield also must meet with a mental health professional within two weeks.
Burfield’s mother, who attended the hearing, told the judge that she could supervise her son.
The decision to release Burfield without bail was opposed by the victim’s family and friends — five of whom sat in the front row of the courtroom.
“Quite frankly, we are disappointed,” said Imam Mohammed Dukuly, the victim’s uncle. “For a serious case like this, I think he should’ve been on bail.”
In a news conference, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said of Burfield and the charges filed against him: “He assaulted someone who could have died. We just can’t allow it.”
The family of Mohammed Dukuly, a paraprofessional at Harrison, expressed relief over his rapid recovery.
“We feel like a heavy mountain has been removed from our head,” Imam Dukuly said. “He can recognize us and we are very excited and grateful to Allah and for the community support. It’s our prayer that the strength we see will continue in his recovery.”
At a Thursday morning news conference, Minneapolis School Superintendent Ed Graff said that the attack highlights the need for mental health support, affordable housing and employment for troubled students.
“My prayers are with Mr. Dukuly and his family, but what we need to talk about is the need we have in our schools,” Graff said in his first comments about the case.
Dukuly, 44, has worked since 2005 at Harrison — a special education school offering a highly restricted environment for students with severe behavioral and emotional needs. In recent years, the school has had a number of high-profile assaults by students on staff members.
“Many of our students have emotional and behavioral needs and [that] leads to aggression,” Graff said.
Because of privacy issues, he would not say why Burfield, who allegedly assaulted another staff member recently, was allowed back in school.
Harrison has been under review by federal officials checking the district’s compliance with special education requirements. Graff said the district is cooperating with federal officials, adding that special education is complex.
The district has coordinated with the University of Minnesota and other academic experts to support the needs of special education students. The district uses $56 million from its general fund for special education.
At the end of the school year, Graff said he will provide professional development training for his staff on mental health issues.
In January 2016, a 17-year-old Harrison student was charged with repeatedly punching Principal Monica Fabre in the face, giving her a concussion. The student, Lashawnte Bright, pleaded guilty to felony third-degree assault and gross misdemeanor assault.
Fabre did not return to Harrison after the attack. She now works as a middle school principal in Louisiana — and remains highly critical of the district, which she said is failing Harrison and its students.
Of the assault on Dukuly, Fabre said Thursday: “I am not surprised at all. The Minneapolis Public Schools system has done nothing to address the mental health conditions of the students they serve.”
She arrived at Harrison in January 2015 determined to help give the school a fresh start, but she served only a year. Her exit was due in large part to what Fabre said was a lack of administrative support. She detailed her charges in a May 2016 letter to the U.S. Department of Education urging its Office for Civil Rights to investigate the district’s “discriminatory practices.”
In her letter, Fabre described Harrison as a warehouse for students with needs that too often went unaddressed.
“They were not given mental health services, let alone educational services,” she said Thursday. “Yet we wonder why they assault?”
Earlier that same month when Fabre was attacked, a 14-year-old boy was arrested in connection with an assault on a female teacher at Harrison. In an assault on a Harrison paraprofessional in December 2015, an 18-year-old student was cited by police.
Graff, who became superintendent in the summer of 2016, said he did not know the specifics of the school’s troubled history.
A week before Dukuly was assaulted, the same student allegedly attacked another staff member at Harrison, giving the employee a concussion.
No police report was ever filed in that case.
Londel French, 43, a special education assistant, said Thursday that he had been assaulted by a student after the lunch period on May 15. French declined to disclose the name of the student who assaulted him, citing the school district’s data privacy rules.
However, another source connected with the district who is familiar with the incident, said Burfield attacked French.
French said he wanted to file charges against the student, but an individual in the school administration, whom he declined to identify, told him that a school resource officer would contact him first. The officer never contacted him, French said.
“I asked for the student who assaulted me to be charged,,” French said, adding he was angry. “My friend [Dukuly] is sitting in the hospital. … It didn’t have to happen.”
Dirk Tedmon, the district’s media relations coordinator, said the district was bound by federal and state law protecting student and staff privacy, and could not comment on French’s allegation.
Students Martasia Rowland and her older brother Kiontae Robinson sat outside the school building Thursday morning and discussed whether they should attend Harrison after learning about the altercation that left Dukuly injured.
“We have been getting support from most of the staff around how to deal with this, but students have been given too many chances,” said Rowland, 15. “When they do something, they don’t get disciplined.”
The students’ mother, Lashawnda Morrow, said the episode has taken a toll on her kids. Morrow said teachers could use more help to better support the troubled students and the school staff.
“Whenever I go there, I see kids horse playing, cursing at teachers or fighting aggressively,” Morrow said. “The teachers are great, but I feel like there should be more teachers for safety reasons and the school should be more structured.”
Back at the Hennepin County Medical Center, Dukuly exchanged smiles and jokes with family and friends.
“Today is a miracle day,” Imam Mohammed Dukuly said. “We thought he was going to die yesterday.”
Staff writer Randy Furst contributed to this report.