MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations says it will announce a lawsuit Wednesday seeking changes in how a central Minnesota school district responds to bullying in the wake of a Muslim teen’s suicide.
CAIR-MN says a federal lawsuit will be filed against Chisago Lakes School District on behalf of Jacob Letourneau-Elsharkawy’s estate. The 15-year-old’s family says he killed himself in 2018 after repeated bullying at Chisago Lakes High School.
The school failed to provide the teenager with a safe learning environment, CAIR-MN alleges, adding that in some cases school officials were themselves bullying Letourneau-Elsharkawy
“Jacob’s death will haunt Minnesota for our inability to protect Muslim students from systemic violence that made his school the most dangerous place for him,” said Jaylani Hussein, CAIR-MN’s executive director, in a statement. “With this lawsuit we aim to protect minority students from preventable Islamophobic, bigoted, and racist bullying.”
More details on the lawsuit are expected at a late morning news conference in Minneapolis.
In 2018, Letourneau-Elsharkawy’s mother, Faith Elsharkawy, told WCCO-TV that the bullying started when her son was in eighth grade, when the family converted to Islam. At the time, Jacob attended Chisago Lakes Middle School.
The bullying over his new religious identity persisted into high school, the family says. Jacob suffered a concussion while being forced into a locker and also needed medical attention after being assaulted on a school bus.
According to CAIR-MN, Letourneau-Elsharkawy’s family repeatedly brought the bullying to the attention of school officials.
However, the district disputed that claim in 2018, saying that all allegations of bullying were investigated and responded to appropriately.
On Wednesday, the district released a statement saying that it continues to empathize with Letourneau-Elsharkawy’s family but denies that it did not respond properly to complaints.
“Jacob’s absence is a hole in their lives and our student body that cannot be filled,” said district said, adding: “The district denies the statements made in the press release related to bullying. The Minnesota Department of Education carefully examined the district’s actions and in April of 2019, determined that the District complied with all applicable laws and policies related to bullying.”