Owatonna works to heal following racist incident at high school

The City of Owatonna in southern Minnesota is continuing to respond to outrage over racist social media posts from over the weekend. 

On Monday, Owatonna Senior High School was put on lockdown after tensions flared over racially charged Snapchat posts. 

Owatonna Mayor Thomas Kuntz says he is proud of the racial diversity in his community and says a few social media posts do not represent broader sentiment.

“We live in a society that is driven by social media,” said Kuntz. “It only takes one of those to get everything blown out of proportion.”

A large manufacturing hub, Owatonna’s demographics have changed drastically in the last several decades. A city that used to be majority white, now boasts a diverse population of Somali-Americans, Sudanese and Hispanics, according to Kuntz. 

At the high school, minorities represent nearly 23 percent of the student population.

“It’s not okay and actually I was disappointed and disheartened,” said superintendent Jeff Elstad. “We should never ever base our judgements on the color of people’s skin or the cultural beliefs they have.”

The city’s human rights commission held a listening session on Tuesday, which Kuntz said was well attended. 

“They need to get their frustrations out and once their frustrations are gone, how do we turn that into positives so we can change things?" he asked. 

The school district also said it will be coming up with a course of action that includes some kind of cultural sensitivity training and education.