District to launch independent investigation of CPHS teacher response to fight incident

Anoka-Hennepin School District will seek an independent investigation of an incident involving a teacher reacting to a student fight at Champlin Park High School. The incident, which is believed to have occurred May 3, reportedly involves industrial arts teacher Joe Hall, a 14-year-old Somali student identified as Camaar Abdul-Kadi and another unidentified student.

According to district spokesperson Mary Olson, the decision to move forward with an outside investigation came after superintendent Dennis Carlson discussed the matter with the school board and legal counsel at the May 28 school board meeting. Olson said the district’s legal counsel will be involved with the details.

The initial call for the independent investigation came from the Somali community, which was outraged by the incident in which they say a teacher they identify as Hall choked a freshman Somali student while restraining him on the heels of breaking up a classroom fight.

Faduma Hassan, the student’s mother, was accompanied by approximately two dozen representatives of the Somali community in a meeting to discuss the incident with Carlson earlier in the day May 28.

Parts of the incident were captured on student cell phones and posted on YouTube. One video shows an unidentified student getting into a verbal confrontation which turned physical with Camaar. Hall is seen responding to the duo, bringing them to the ground to stop the altercation.

The second video shows Hall physically restraining Camaar in a headlock wrestling type of maneuver. Hall can be heard asking twice, “Are you done?” After this, he releases Camaar, who then appears to raise his hand as if to punch Hall. Hall then grabs Camaar and puts him into another type of headlock.

It appears as if someone asks if they should go for help to which Hall apparently replies affirmatively, at the request.

“We have to be really careful about judging anything on a 55-second video — not just the teacher, but the student,” said Julie Blaha, president of Anoka-Hennepin Education Minnesota, the district’s teachers’ union. “I don’t think you can judge something on limited information.”

She said they spend the majority of their time training on how to put supports in place to minimize this type of situation because it shakes everyone.

“It doesn’t just rattle the students, it rattles the teacher too,” Blaha said. Hall currently remains teaching at Champlin Park High School.

Before the decision to launch an outside investigation was made, Olson reported the district believed the teacher’s actions were consistent with protecting the students in his classroom and himself.

“Teachers typically do not restrain students,” said Olson. “If they do, it’s only if it’s absolutely necessary.”

Olson added, in this situation the teacher’s goal was clear: to protect the other students and to protect himself.

She also said the district already conducted its own investigation including several interviews of students who witnessed the event.

“We did not see that it was a racial issue,” Olson said.

Citing data privacy laws, Olson could not confirm whether disciplinary action was taken against either student initially involved in the fight. However, Camaar’s mother, Hassan, has reported that he has been suspended, has not been back to school and is afraid to return.

Blaha said she understands the district’s decision and believes it’s important to listen.

“If we’re smart, we’ll keep our defenses down and hear what members of our community have to say,” Blaha said.

 

Contact Mindy Mateuszczyk at mindy.m@ecm-inc.com

 

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