Deeqaifrah Hussein.

Deeqaifrah Hussein is the interim executive director of special education and health services for Minneapolis Public Schools, the district recently announced. 

Hussein (MNLEND, 2017–18) was named a special education director in 2019 and serves on the board of the Autism Society of Minnesota. She chairs the Somali Parents Autism Network, among other community roles, and is the mother of two sons with autism. 

“Ms. Hussein is an active leader in the autism community,” Aimee Fearing, MPS’ senior academic officer, said in announcing the interim role. “She is committed to [leading the] department in building relationships with parents and creating support systems for educational achievement by connecting with parents and explaining the process of special education.” 

Despite autism’s increasing prevalence, particularly in communities of color, stigma and a lack of knowledge about critical early intervention resources continue to create delays in getting young children the services they need, Hussein said. 

“Inclusivity matters, as does recruiting talent to the department that our families can trust to break down the barriers to services,” she said. “When you don’t understand the language or don’t want the disability label, it prevents us from reaching students.”

In addition to more diverse recruiting, Hussein said she expects to prioritize equitable evaluations and empathic communications with parents. 

“I’m hoping to promote understanding and diversity. If a parent declines services, it doesn’t mean they don’t care about their child. It may mean that we haven’t communicated effectively about what those services can do. When there are no teachers or social workers who look like the parents, it can produce tension.” 

Hussein credits the MNLEND program with helping her understand the value of interdisciplinary experiences in education. 

“MNLEND brought people together,” she said. “It wasn’t just parents in a room talking with each other. I appreciated having parents, doctors, professors in the field and others who were all talking about person-centered approaches. It’s hard to quantify, but this interdisciplinary aspect and the U’s vast network of experts really led to authentic conversations. It brought us to consider first what the child wants.”