St. Cloud School District admits anti-Somali discrimination, nears settlement with Department of Education

Owatonna Senior High School was the site of alleged discrimination.
Owatonna Senior High School was the site of alleged discrimination.

The St. Cloud school district has almost completed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education to end an investigation into anti-Muslim behavior at Apollo High School.

In March 2010, the Council on American Islamic Relations filed a formal complaint with the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education. The group alleged systematic anti-Muslim abuse at the schools, with students and teachers alike calling their Somali peers "towelheads" and mocking them for not eating pork bacon.

The original letter, mailed March 19, 2010, claimed that a World History teacher groaned, "Ugh, the Muslims are back" after a group of students returned from holiday break. Another teacher handed students an air freshener and told them to spray around the class when Somalis walked into the room. Even the students' bus driver got in on the action.

According to CAIR's letter, a bus driver left Somali Muslim students at their stop, "driving past them when she sees them." The letter also claimed the driver sometimes told Somali students to "catch her if they can."

CAIR also reported that Owatonna Senior High School students posted online racist essays they'd written for their English class.

The group filed its complaint because the Owatanna Superintendent, Tom Tapper, did not engage with them.

Now, a year and a half later, the St. Cloud school district is about to settle with the Department of Education, according to the St. Cloud Times. Superintendent Bruce Watkins said an agreement could be reached "any day now."

The Times reported that the district looked into CAIR's claims of discrimination, and determined that many of them were valid.

The Department of Education could not be immediately reached for comment. Watkins did not return a voice mail left at his office.

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