Omar visit to St. Anthony school prompts protest, phone calls from out-of-state


Rep. Ilhan Omar

For the whirlwind of controversy surrounding her one-hour visit to St. Anthony Village Middle School on April 26, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar’s arrival was understated. 

Pulling up in an unmarked car, staff from her office and the school district quietly closed off the main parking lot behind her and escorted the congresswoman in for a tour and 40-minute visit with students in the auditorium. 

This subtle entrance somewhat belied what had been a hectic few days for the St. Anthony-New Brighton school district. After releasing information about the event 10 days prior, school officials began receiving calls and emails from people who were concerned about the potential content of Omar’s speech and the fact that parents weren’t allowed to attend. 

Omar is the Democrat elected last year to represent Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District in the U.S. House. She’s come under fire for alleged anti-Semetic comments and a speech in which she referred to the Sept. 11 attacks in part as “some people did something,” while explaining what the events meant for Muslim Americans.

Omar is the first Somali-American elected to Congress; St. Anthony is split north/south between the 4th and 5th congressional districts.

According to Wendy Webster, district director of community services and communications, many of the messages were coming from outside of the community.

“When we investigated further, many of the phone calls and the emails were coming from individuals who lived outside of Minnesota, or definitely lived outside of the [5th] Congressional district,” Webster said. 

According to the district, Omar’s visit was treated like any other assembly. Of the four held this year, none have been open to families. With Omar’s visit, as is the case with each assembly, students have to opt-in and receive parental permission to attend. 

On the day of the event, two students from St. Anthony Village High School — they were unable to attend the talk — stood shivering outside of the middle school in support of Omar, holding a sign that read “Hate Free Zone.” 

They had been there since 8 a.m., and were still standing there at 12:45 p.m. with minutes to go before Omar’s arrival. 

Six adults were close by in support of the high school students and the congresswoman, and a couple more trickled in as the event neared. Two had children and grandchildren at the school. Most were from St. Anthony, with a few saying they had come in from Columbia Heights and North Minneapolis.  

According to those gathered, there had also been a small group of demonstrators opposed to the event. That group disbanded around 12:40 p.m., they said.

While many of those who were vocally against the event on social media feared the potential content of the speech and viewed Omar as a radical, while criticizing her Muslim faith, some focused on the fact that parents weren’t allowed to attend. 

One of the women who attended the demonstration against the visit, a resident of Minneapolis, had found out about the gathering through a widely circulated Facebook status by local pro-Trump activist Alley Waterbury. 

The woman, who said she preferred to remain anonymous, said in an interview that her main concern was the fact that parents were not allowed to be present for Omar’s speech. The district said the talk would focus on Omar’s personal story and the education-related bills she is cosponsoring. 

While the woman does not have a child at SAVMS, she noted that she has a middle school-aged son who attends school nearby.

“We have a right as parents to know what’s being taught to our children,” she said. “It would be if anybody on either side of the aisle came to speak — whether it’s Trump or Pence or one of the conservative people. For me, it’s more about parents’ rights.”

 

–Bridget Kranz can be reached at bkranz@lillienews.com or 651-748-7825.

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