DULUTH – Amid a firestorm of rhetoric over refugee resettlement policy last week, a fifth-grade teacher on the Iron Range told St. Louis County commissioners “I am a Republican and would not be nice to any refugees.”
Chris Lysaker, who teaches at Keewatin Elementary School, wrote in an e-mail that “Rangers would be prejudice against them and would not make them feel welcome. Bigger cities are better places for refugees. Also teachers are not trained in their language so these refugees would become problematic in the schools.”
He apologized for the comments Tuesday after they were made public and said they were not reflective of the school district.
“I apologize for the statement and didn’t mean it,” Lysaker said by phone. “I just really apologize. I’m embarrassed I said it.”
St. Louis County Commissioner Patrick Boyle, who represents the eastern part of Duluth, had flagged the comment “sent very publicly to our County Board and administration” and said in an e-mail to school officials: “I do not think his values align with how your district would treat the students of immigrants or refugees.”
Keewatin Elementary School Principal Annie Olson-Reiners told Boyle last week that “Our superintendent, Mr. Matt Grose, and I will look into this so that we can take appropriate action.”
Grose said by phone Tuesday that the district is “troubled by the comments by Mr. Lysaker, and we’re conducting an internal review.”
“He was not speaking on behalf of the Nashwauk-Keewatin School District and his comments certainly do not represent the beliefs and policies and practices of our school district,” Grose continued, saying the district is “committed to maintaining a learning and working environment that is free from harassment and discrimination.”
Lysaker said he had recently spoken with district officials but declined to share what was said.
On May 26 commissioners spent a day debating refugee resettlement, an issue brought on by President Donald Trump’s administration requiring local governments to opt in before accepting refugees.
That order has been suspended by a court challenge, making any action by the county a symbolic gesture until the matter is settled. The County Board voted 4-3 to put off a decision on the issue.
Just one refugee has been resettled in St. Louis County in the past nine years.