Reinstated East Grand Forks teacher speaks out

An East Grand Forks, Minn., teacher who was suspended for criticizing Somalis who don’t show up for their English as a Second Language (ESL) classes says he wrote his letter to administrators to “brainstorm” ways to teach the class.

Bryan Perkins, who was reinstated after protests on his behalf, said the poor attendance holds the rest of the class back.

In a letter to the Grand Forks Herald, Perkins said he hopes the controversy won’t endanger a school levy referendum.

For that email (and only that email), I was placed on leave for the better part of two weeks. In contrast to what has been rumored, there was no complaint filed against me. Placing me on leave was an administrative decision alone.

This decision was quickly and loudly questioned in the court of public opinion, and for that I am grateful to my community. I am also thankful that since my inner-school email found its way to the public, many of my Somali American students have demonstrated improved attendance and a reinvigorated desire to succeed.

Thanks, guys and girls. You know who you are, and I am very proud of you.

My moment of fame or infamy—depending on how you choose to characterize my email—has nearly ended. And, so it should end. Whereas the fine tradition of education in East Grand Forks lives on, but in order to thrive, it needs the help of voters in East Grand Forks.

As Devine’s letter appropriately stated, I am asking that you “do not punish the students — present and future — because of the recent controversy in our district.” And in fact, I encourage East Grand Forks voters to go to Senior High on Tuesday and vote in favor of the institution I love.

We need the referendum to pass, and the students deserve it.

In a recent editorial, the Herald criticized the school district for putting Perkins on administrative leave.

For the email seems innocuous in every way. It contains not even a syllable of racism. Instead, it simply makes the point that perhaps 30 percent of Perkins’ Somali students exhibit “very bad attendance”—and that when these students return to class, their limited English skills mean the teachers must “physically stop class” to re-teach “most of what they missed.

Last week, however, Tony Palmiscno, chair of the East Grand Forks school board, defended the action, saying Perkins wasn’t disciplined, but that the board has to investigate a complaint against him. Perkins says there was no complaint.

More education: Voters poised to remake St. Paul school board as worries mount (MPR News)