A life-threatening attack on an education assistant at Harrison Education Center last week has exposed a larger problem of violence and racism in Minneapolis Public Schools’ (MPS) special education centers. The May 22 beating of Mohammed Dukuly by a White high school student, Corey Burfield, left him critically injured and on life support – and left staffers in fear of their own lives.
There has been a history of staff members being attacked at Harrison and River Bend Education Center, both of them MPS special education schools located on Minneapolis’ North Side. According to the school’s website, River Bend provides intense individual and behavior management support for K-8 students “who have significant emotional, behavior and mental health needs that adversely affect their academic and social progress.” Harrison serves high school students, ages 14-18, who have severe emotional and behavioral needs.
In 2017, a 17-year-old student punched the Harrison school principal in the face; the student later pleaded guilty to felony third-degree assault. The previous year, a female teacher was assaulted by a 14-year-old student. Surveillance camera footage from last Tuesday’s brutal beating showed 18-year-old Burfield knocking Dukuly to the ground and punching him unconscious.
Staff members at both schools say such incidents are commonplace, but they are afraid to speak out for fear of repercussions from MPS officials, two staffers exclusively told the MSR. Both agreed to speak on the condition that their gender and names would not be published.
“Harrison and River Bend are not average schools,” said one of the staffers. “Every staff member there knows it is [expletive deleted] every day.”
“Last week, I was hit by a kid. I was attacked…but not [bad enough] to be put in the hospital,” said one.
“I got my thumb broken, a knee replaced and my eye cut, and got two concussions” in two years at the school, the other recalled. “I get cussed out every day.”
The staffers also report that both schools are very segregated.
“The White kids are on one side. They don’t have to intermix with the Black kids. The Black kids are over-policed, but the White kids can do anything they want to do. It’s messed up. It’s crazy,” the staffers continued.
“That shouldn’t have happened,” said one staffer about Burfield. “That kid should not have been there. That’s not the first [attack] that kid has done.”
Burfield was arrested immediately after the assault, but was released without bond May 24 to his parents and must be on electronic home monitoring. His next court appearance on assault charges for the attack is scheduled for June 22.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said he would prosecute Burfield despite the young man’s reported mental health issues. “He assaulted someone who, in many ways, could have died,” Freeman said.
An MPS spokesperson told the MSR that the district’s current concern is for Harrison to move forward. “We are just focused on healing Harrison at this point. We are trying to heal the community,” Julie Schultz Brown, executive director of marketing and communications, said via phone.
Both unnamed staffers, however, expressed doubts on how much MPS actually will ensure more safety at Harrison and River Bend. “I think [the district leaders] are trying to make this…an unsupervised place.”
They said the community must get more involved, such as by spending time in the building and seeing for themselves what’s going on. “It will blow you away. It’s sad.”
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WHY didn’t intervention happen with this student BEFORE his aggression towards others escalated to the point of such serious injury? While re-examining school discipline/suspension policies is VERY important, there ought to be A BRIGHT LINE when it comes to PHYSICAL VIOLENCE —no matter what race the perpetrator or victim. Was a WHITE student “protected from consequences” when in the same situations a BLACK student wouldn’t be? Are schools now afraid to suspend ANT student for ANY reason? I hope the School Board, principals & parents will take this situation VERY seriously.
This is horrendous. NO ONE should havs to go through this.
Are the kids able to be taught any educational lessons while attending these schools? If their behavior is so bad that no instruction can even happen, then why is the state forcing education upon said students? Let them grow up into adulthood without the school education part. I doubt that any instruction can be done in such a hostile environment such as this, anyway.
Do the students at Harrison and Riverbend, Not want to be at school? It does not make sense to put lives in danger while forcing education on kids.