Office for Civil Rights coming to St. Cloud in wake of school bullying allegations

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Officials with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights will be in St. Cloud next week, after recent reports of bullying targeting local Somali students.

Administrators and students will meet with officials starting next week, the Star Tribune reports.

The St. Cloud Times describes it as "an effort to further understand what may be happening" at the district's Tech and Apollo high schools.

The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) released a statement following the announcement, saying it welcomes the Office for Civil Rights' upcoming presence.

What's driving the office's visit is reports of bullying and harassment, specifically targeted at the schools' Somali students.

But there are a couple rounds of incidents at play here.

2015 cases

The most recent round involves a string of reported bullying incidents targeting Somalis. In March, about 100 students walked out of St. Cloud Technical High School in protest, fueled by a social media post that portrayed a Somali student as being part of the Islamic State militant group.

A second walk-out followed, and at the end of March, community leaders there met with education officials in hopes of resolving outstanding tensions.

2009-10 cases

But those incidents actually come in the still-rippling wake of earlier allegations of racial issues in the school district.

In the 2009-10 school year, CAIR-MN asked the Office for Civil Rights to investigate claims that non-Somali students are harassing and bullying Somali students, The Associated Press reported. The findings determined school officials responded appropriately to the claims, but still said the school district needed to better welcome Somali students.

It led to a settlement between the district and Office for Civil Rights (which you can read here), which says the district "will take all steps necessary" to ensure its students aren't targets of hostility based on race, color or national origin.

The settlement agreement will not be over until the Office of Civil Rights decides the district "fulfilled the terms" laid out.

CAIR says it hasn't been closed yet.

So what's happening now?

Office for Civil Rights officials are once again returning to St. Cloud. Though it's not exactly clear whether the visit is specifically to investigate the most recent allegations.

A Department of Education spokesperson told MPR News they're "monitoring" that agreement signed in 2011, and that the case has not been reopened.

St. Cloud schools spokesperson Tami DeLand told the St. Cloud Times district officials have not been told a new investigation is being opened by the Office for Civil Rights, but says the federal department's visit is continued monitoring that's part of the 2011 agreement.

CAIR-MN however describes it as a "renewed investigation."

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