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Somalis upset as racial unrest builds at St. Cloud Tech High

ST. CLOUD — Dozens of Somali students poured out of Tech High School here Friday for the second time in a week, saying they were outraged that the administration had not done enough to stop classmates who taunted them for being terrorists, tried to pull off their hijabs and regularly hounded them.

State troopers and local cops, who arrested a Somali senior here during another clash Wednesday, swarmed the front of the school and eventually stood guard behind the front door. Administrators restricted most students inside from leaving; teens gawked at the commotion through the windows.

It was the latest example of racial frustrations erupting at the St. Cloud school district, which is mostly white but home to a growing East African population. Complaints about Somalis being harassed at Apollo High School, another institution in the district, prompted an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education in late 2011 that called for improving the environment for East Africans.

Raha Omar, an 18-year-old senior, said Somali students have a right to feel safe at school.

"Every single day something happens," said Omar, as protesters, including one student in tears, fanned across the lawn and some negotiated with a cop at the entrance. "Somali kids (are) being treated like crap. ... We go to (administrators) and nothing happens."

Superintendent Willie Jett was vague when asked about what the administration had done in past years to address racial problems, saying the staff is focused on this week's events and would be having broader conversations with parents and students.

"Our response has to be geared toward how to make kids feel safe," he said.

Somali students told the Star Tribune of a pervasive climate of bullying toward girls who wore hijabs at the school. They said students spat on them from the top of the stairwell at the place they used to pray, told them to go back to their country, jumped on their cafeteria tables and stepped on their food, and knocked coffee cups out of their hands.

Jett said the district had filed a report with the U.S. Department of Education on its progress with Somali students as recently as last summer. In recent days, the Minnesota Department of Education also has reached out to the district, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which helped spur the 2011 settlement, has plans to meet with school administrators.

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