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   St. Cloud schools close to deal on Muslim harassment case
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St. Cloud school district is close to reaching an agreement with the U.S. Education Department that would end an investigation into alleged religious discrimination, Superintendent Bruce Watkins said.

An agreement could be finalized any day, Watkins said. The issue has been discussed with the district’s lawyer in two closed committee meetings this week. The agreement is scheduled to appear before the school board at its next meeting Oct. 27, if it is ready.

That would end what has been a 20-month process since the complaint was filed. In March 2010, the Minneapolis-based Council on American Islamic Relations asked the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to investigate reports of harassment and discrimination against Muslim students at Technical and Apollo high schools.

The school district investigated the claims and determined many of them did happen, as did inappropriate behavior by Muslim students directed toward non-Muslim students.

The district has argued that it took appropriate action when the harassment was brought to its attention.

Watkins, who was not superintendent when the complaint was filed, said the district already has in place many of the strategies to prevent and respond to discrimination and has added or is in the process of adding more as the investigation has continued.

“We have continued that and also shared that (with the office of civil rights).” Watkins said.

St. Cloud has a growing population of close to 800 Somali students, many who are Muslim.

Lori Saroya, president of CAIR Minnesota, said the group is glad that the federal government got involved and the district is taking steps to make sure students are not harassed. She said that has not always been the case.

“The details of this agreement aren’t that important to us,” Saroya said. “The attention that this has drawn to the harassment of Muslim and other minority students is important.”

CAIR Minnesota filed a complaint against Owatonna school district at the same time as St. Cloud. The sides reached a settlement in April in that case.

www.sctimes.com

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