Ethinic tension inside Technical High School became public spectacle Wednesday on its south lawn as more than 100 students and parents, most of them Somali, protested what they described as a pattern of bullying and discrimination to which school officials have not adequately responded.
The protest started shortly before noon. Protesters, including students and parents, chanted slogans and waved posters.
Inside the school, normal activity ground to a halt as the bulk of students not involved in the protest were contained to their classrooms.
One of the protesters, Tech junior Hafsa Abdi, said students organized the event because administrators haven’t addressed conflicts between Somali and non-Somali students.
Other protesters alleged unfair school disciplinary practices in which Somali students are disciplined more harshly than non-Somalis.
Protesters said the catalyst for the protest involved a Tuesday Snapchat post that also was shared on Facebook. It pictured a Somali Tech student in a wheelchair and a caption implying she was affiliated with the Islamic State group terrorist organization, Abdi said.
One of the protesters, Tech freshman Hodo Nour, said she was the student pictured.
“I was in shock,” Nour said. “I was really upset about it.”
Another incident involved fruit being thrown at a Somali student on stage during a cultural heritage show at the school last week, protesters said.
Protester Ayan Bashir, a Tech freshman, said these and other incidents were reported to school administrators but little was done. Bashir said students are tired of reporting such incidents to no effect.
“We decided to come out here today because we needed to show action,” Bashir said.
The protest lasted more than two hours before dwindling after 2 p.m.
Some passing motorists confronted protesters where they gathered on Seventh Street South. One motorist stopped her car and yelled at students to get back in the school building. Another displayed an obscene gesture to protesters.
The school was placed in containment at about the time the protest began. District spokeswoman Tami DeLand said the school briefly went into lockdown at about 2 p.m. when police responded to what she described as an unrelated argument outside the school near Lake George.
The containment inside the school was lifted at about 2:30 p.m., DeLand said.
A group of students left the protest at one point, went into the building and met with administrators. Abdi was one of those students. She said administrators agreed to train staff to be “more understanding to people of color” and to hire more teachers of color.
“They seemed like they were taking it seriously,” Abdi said.
DeLand said she’s not sure what the district’s next step will be after the protests. But she said administrators “will definitely respond” to their concerns.
There was confusion among protesters about school buses parked nearby. The buses were used for a student field trip, DeLand said.
The students organized Wednesday’s protest through social media, said Lul Hersi, who identified herself as a parent of a Tech student. Hersi said administrators have unfairly targeted Somali students for discipline.
She said there have been cases in which Somali students are victims of bullying by non-Somali students and retaliate. The Somali students are disciplined but the aggressor isn’t punished, Hersi said.
Hersi said tensions in the school aren’t just between white and Somali students. Some non-Somali African-Americans also have had run-ins with Somalis, she said.
“This is what we were trying to avoid,” Hersi said, as she pointed to the crowd of kids. “But when our kids are pushed and shoved, believe me, they’ll retaliate.”
Different climate at Tech
Several protesters said racial tension at Tech is more pronounced than at other high schools.
Nour said she recently transferred from Apollo and found Tech students to be much more hostile toward Somalis.
Fellow Tech students Maka Ali and Salma Mohamed said they had similar experiences.
Ali moved to St. Cloud from Sioux City, Iowa. She said she was stunned by the level of racial animosity at Tech and the degree to which Somalis are singled out.
“So many students skip class because they know if they come to class, they’ll be treated differently,” Ali said.
Mohamed moved to St. Cloud after living in Minneapolis and Bloomington. In Bloomington, she said she had many white friends at school.
“When I came here, it’s like I have no white friends. They don’t want to be my friends,” Mohamed said.
One of the parents involved in the protest, Sadwda Ali, said similar issues exist at South Junior High. Sadwda Ali said students there have taunted her 11-year-old daughter for wearing a hijab and spat in her face.
Sadwda Ali said she’s particularly disheartened to hear about students trying to link Somalis with the Islamic State group.
“They think that all Somalis and all Muslims are terrorists,” Sadwda Ali said. “That’s totally wrong. Our religion is peace.”
Students not involved in the protest began trickling out of the school after the containment was lifted. One of them, junior Matt Mohagen, said he and other students were confined to their classrooms for more than two and 1/2 hours during the protest.
“Obviously there’s some racial tension here,” Mohagen said. “We all have to go to school here together.
“We all need to get along.”