MOORHEAD – Parents and a former student pleaded with school board members to address concerns of minority and immigrant families who complain their children are subjected to bullying, racial slurs and inattention from teachers and administrators.
The concerns were heard Monday, Feb. 26, by the board of Moorhead Area Public Schools, in what some parents said were complaints they had previously made, in meetings and in writing, but said no action was taken.
Also Monday, board members went into closed session to discuss legal strategy for a threatened lawsuit by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, but did not elaborate in open session about the nature of the possible litigation.
“Teachers know about this,” said Tammie Yak, a white woman who has five black children in Moorhead schools, and a son who graduated. “The kids have been telling the teachers.”
If the problems continue to fester and are not dealt with, Yak added, “This is how things happen in our schools and we get guns in our schools.”
She said she has daughters in a Spanish immersion program at Ellen Hopkins Elementary School, where students are repeatedly bullied by another student who is allowed to remain in the class despite complaints about his disruptive behavior.
“We need something to be done about racial bullying in our schools,” Yak said. “I don’t know what to do for my kids anymore.”
Anas Abdi, 21, a Somali immigrant, said he languished in school, relegated to basic classes until he was told he did not have enough credits to graduate. He said the same outcome had happened to other students, who were dismissed from school without graduating when they turned 21.
“We started dropping out of school,” said Abdi, who now takes adult basic education classes and works at a home health service. “There’s no reason to stay in school if you’re not going to get a diploma. I’d rather work and make money.”
Abdi, who has a sister at Moorhead High School, said other immigrant students also are frustrated and are considering dropping out.
“It’s not good,” he told school board members. “Is there any way you guys can help them? I’m still asking for help for the other kids who go to Moorhead High School.”
Ali Abdullah, an elder in the Moorhead Somali community, has a daughter in Moorhead High School. He told school board members his family moved from Grand Forks, N.D., because he had heard the schools were excellent.
His daughter, who felt welcome in Grand Forks and got attention from her teachers, has struggled in Moorhead and has been told she will not graduate because she does not have enough credits. “We cannot help you,” he said through an interpreter, echoing what his daughter was told.
Abdullah also spoke of a male Somali immigrant student who suffered a broken hand in school and was hospitalized for five days. Despite the severity of his injuries, nobody from the school notified the student’s family, he said.
“There was lack of communication,” Abdullah said. “Nobody took him to hospital. Nobody called the family.”
“You are the elected people,” he told school board members. “We need a solution to this.”
Hamida Dakane, an activist in the local Somali community who acted as an interpreter for some parents at the meeting, also addressed the board. She said she worked two years as a volunteer in Moorhead schools.
“Everything you heard today is the truth,” she said. “That is what is happening in Moorhead High School.”
LaVerne Shaw-Bailey, who is not an immigrant, has a black daughter in third grade at Ellen Hopkins Elementary. She complained that there are few minority teachers or educators, and believes that is a reason why the district is receiving so many complaints from minority communities.
“In the last four years my child has had no exposure to anyone who looks like her,” she said, referring to teachers and other educators. After the meeting, she elaborated on the importance of minority representation.
“In order to address the concerns that are going on with these other families, I think representation and exposure is hugely important.”
The parents’ comments were not on the agenda, so board members said they could not discuss the grievances aired Monday, but members thanked the concerned parents for their comments, and directed them to meet with Brandon Lunak, the interim superintendent, and other school officials.
“Your concerns will be taken under advisement,” said Scott Steffes, the board’s chairman. “I appreciate your comments and concerns.”
Board member Kara Gloe asked administrators to report to the board on the outcome of the complaints.
Cassidy Bjorklund, the board’s vice chairwoman, told the parents their concerns will be taken seriously.
“Everything you guys said is valid,” she said. “It’s for people like you that change happens.”
Interim Superintendent Lunak said after the meeting that staff will investigate the complaints.
“We’re going to have to look into these,” he said. “I’ve got to look into it. It’s the first I heard of it.”