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Reinstated teacher addresses email about Somali students

EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn. -- An East Grand Forks teacher is telling his side in a controversy over the school district's decision to place him on temporary leave after an email he sent about integrating Somali students into the district.

EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn. --  An East Grand Forks teacher is telling his side in a controversy over the school district's decision to place him on temporary leave after an email he sent about integrating Somali students into the district.

High school social studies teacher Bryan Perkins was placed on paid administrative leave for two weeks after he sent an email questioning the way the district teaches English as a second language and the attendance records of some Somali students.

Perkins said in an interview Sunday he decided to speak up now because the school district had been misleading and it was time to defend himself and his family.

"I certainly did write an email that could be construed negatively but that was not my intent, and rather than voice that, our district has simply continued to say there have been complaints and possible wrongdoing and nobody has stated the truth, which is that I sent an interschool email with the hopes of getting better attendance or at least looking more into it and doing what's best for all kids," he said.

After public outcry that culminated in a student protest, Perkins was reinstated. In a letter to the Grand Forks Herald published Monday, he said he wrote the email while brainstorming and was subsequently placed on leave solely because of it.

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"I meant to be vague because, I do not have all the answers," Perkins wrote. "I was reaching out to my colleagues in hopes of initiating a discourse on a tough but valid educational question."

East Grand Forks School Board Chairman Tony Palmiscno wrote a letter to the Grand Forks Herald last week saying a complaint was made against Perkins and paid administrative isn't considered discipline but is merely to "remove the employee from the work setting so the issue can be investigated."

Palmiscno said Perkins, who has been a teacher in East Grand Forks since 1994, was reinstated after the investigation came to a close.

Perkins denies there was ever a complaint filed against him but said he doesn't want to pursue the dispute further.

"I believe as this process plays out maybe the wording will change. ... I think it was written through attorneys to try to protect all aspects, and I understand and respect that, I just felt the need at this point to finally stand up for myself, my family, and all teachers and say this was simply an email in hopes of bettering education," Perkins said.

Instead of doing it at a special meeting as was originally planned, the East Grand Forks School Board responded to public concerns about the incident with Palmiscno's letter after several people asked for more information at an Oct. 26 meeting. Perkins is not on the agenda for an upcoming meeting Wednesday.

School officials haven't released many details, citing legal reasons, and Perkins said he feels his defenders deserve answers.

"Was it just the email? The answer is yes, it was just the email," he said.

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Perkins' letter comes after another letter to the Grand Forks Herald written by Paula Devine, a physical education instructor at East Grand Forks High School.

Devine's letter urged the public to vote 'yes' Tuesday on a $20.6 million bond referendum to update the high school, something Perkins reiterated in his own letter.

"At some point character assassination and possible defamation of character are a reality, and I also want the public to know I firmly stand behind education in this School District," he said. "I don't want people voting no because they think I was wronged."

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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