Divisive issues spark tension

Administration’s action plan, handling of incidents questioned


(Top) Principal Scott Meyers addresses students at a forum discussion in C350 Nov. 15. The forum took place following an alleged incident involving a Muslim student’s hijab being pulled off. Meyers said he hopes students will engage in “courageous conversation.” (Bottom) Senior Yusra Jara participates in the Nov. 15 discussion. The meeting aimed to promote conversation about racial tension.

By Ethan Brown, Raphy Gendler, and Sam Orloff, St. Louis Park High School

In an announcement made during advisory Dec. 2, Principal Scott Meyers stated that in light of recent events at Park, he was moved to action.

In his announcement, Meyers said activism on behalf of students and teachers drove him to action.

“I have received feedback from parents and staff that have moved me to action. Please know that I am listening,” Meyers said in the announcement. “Listen openly to each other. Engage in conversations we normally avoid. Be both courageous and kind. Keep talking past the point of disagreement, and find common ground that lifts every one of us.”

Senior Suweyda Abdi said she feels the administration hasn’t taken action in regards to tensions.

“I just think that the school and administration so far, has just been them talking,” Abdi said. “Throughout people of color’s perspective — actually I can really only talk about myself and people I have talked to — but we kind of feel like everything’s being swept under the rug, and basically we just had the forum, and we are just done with it.”

The forum referenced by Abdi entails an open forum hosted by the administration Nov. 15, following a Nov. 14 incident where a freshman reported to the Student Office her hijab was allegedly pulled from her head by a male senior in the A3 hallway.

Students gathered at the forum to discuss race relations after the incident involving the hijab.

District communications director Sara Thompson said policy changes in response to recent events are yet to be made or discussed, but acknowledge changes to policy are a long-term possibility.

“I wouldn’t expect anything to structurally change in two weeks time. That’s just not realistic throughout the school system,” Thompson said. “I think there’s a lot of conversation being had right now. Surrounding just unity, school spirit, kindness, understanding, being courageous in your conversations.”

Meyers said the administration used listening to complaints as initial response to recent incidences.

“So that was the first step, the other was to say, ‘know that we are listening,’ I think that is an important step, even though that is looked at sometimes as inaction,” Meyers said. “I think it’s vital for us right now to listen to each other to hear what are the ideas, what are the feelings, because we didn’t really have time to quantify what they are.”

Administrative procedures used

The freshman student involved in the hijab incident Nov. 14 said she believes administration did not take her concerns seriously.

“I think they didn’t take it seriously at first when we were there. I don’t think they really believed that this happened,” the freshman said. “So they were like ‘oh it was an accident,’ making up excuses for him, but when they did find out that this happened, there were two eyewitnesses who saw him do what he did, then they were slow. They should have acted faster.”

Ibrahim Hooper, National Communications Director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, specifically criticized the decision to use mediation in an altercation between a bully and victim.

“If there’s a perpetrator and a victim, you don’t mediate,” Hooper said. “You have consequences for the perpetrator.”

Thompson declined to comment on the use of mediation in the hijab incident.

According to Anti-Defamation League Regional Director for Missouri and Southern Illinois Karen Aroesty, the hijab incident should not have been handled using administrative mediation, because it should have been investigated as a case of religious violence.

“I have no problem (with mediation) when in the nature of conflict resolution, you do have a setting where both participants are more or less on a level playing field,” Aroesty said. “But the case like the one (at Park), I have a real problem with mediation in that context. The intentionality or meanness of pulling off a woman’s hijab … requires a different kind of resolution.”

The freshman involved in the incident said she felt the mediation process was one-sided.

“I feel like he won. I don’t feel accomplished,” the freshman said. “No, I don’t hate talking about this, but then it’s uncomfortable for me to keep talking about this, so I just put it behind me.”

The freshman and senior both confirmed grade level coordinator Rob Griffin, who coaches the senior’s football team, was at the mediation.

Incident classification and policy violations

An Echo investigation found Park’s administration may have miscatergorized an alleged incident of religious harassment or violence in violation of policies found in the student handbook and Section 400 of School Board policies.

Assistant principal Kari Schwietering said the incident and investigation occurred according to policy.
“From a school standpoint, we certainly follow through in the ways that we would anytime there’s an incident in our school,” Schwietering said. “So we pulled in students, we had multiple conversations. We pulled in staff and talked with staff. We looked to video and investigated the situation.”

Thompson said administrators classified the hijab incident as an “incident at the high school,” instead of a human rights violation. According to Section/File 413 such a violation would include religious, racial or sexual harassment or violence.

“It was investigated, as you know, but it wasn’t determined to have racial, religious motivated action,” Thompson said.

Section/File 413 describes religious violence as “a physical act of aggression or assault upon another group of individuals because of, or in a manner reasonably related to, religion.”

The freshman involved in the incident said she felt the incident was reasonably related to religion.
Hooper said incidences involving hijabs are religiously based.

“Generally (any altercation) that involves a headscarf or references to terrorists or things like that, I mean it’s pretty clear what the source of bias is. If those elements go into it, then of course (it’s religious),” Hooper said.

However, Thompson said the school did not categorize the incident before investigation.
Thompson later said the incident’s classification should occur before a formal investigation into any altercation.

“I believe (a classification of the incident) should have happened immediately at the start,” Thompson said. “It’s not a secondary investigation or a second step, in my understanding.”

Thompson said a human rights officer was excluded from the investigation after it was determined not to be a human rights violation.

“I don’t believe (the human rights officer was involved) because I believe that the investigation deemed that this wasn’t a human rights violation,” Thompson said.

Thompson, in a Dec. 2 interview, acknowledged the high school failed to adhere to this component of Section/File 413 “Harassment and Violence.”

“My understanding is that the name (of the human rights officer) is not posted as of right now, and so we need to do that,” Thompson said.

Thompson named district director of human resources Richard Kreyer as the human rights officer.

Echo will continue to investigate the recent incidents at Park, both alleged and confirmed, and will continue to follow events as more information becomes available.

All information reflected in this article was confirmed as of Dec. 7.

Read the original story here.