On Monday, Valley News Live of Fargo reported how Brooklyn Partlow, a Century Middle School eighth grader, experienced bullying that escalated from name-calling and exclusion to students cutting her with a razor blade.
An anonymous whistleblower contacted the TV station, which was airing a "Battle Against Bullying Initiative."
Brooklyn's mother, Kristen, initially thought the TV reporter was contacting her in a professional capacity, since Kristen is active in helping the community become trauma-informed and more aware of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).
Brooklyn "wanted to be a voice for other people going through this," so they did the interview, Kristen said.
"So much has unfolded in the past week," she continued.
Since the story aired, Kristen said mutilated photos of her daughter, "having blood coming out of her mouth," are being circulated. On Tuesday, they went to gather Brooklyn's belongings from the school after-hours because she was warned they were going to be vandalized.
"It's been so horrible. I still hope there can be some policy or reform," Kristen said. "I was thinking we could do something positive from this. We could have a bullying policy that is actually a policy - not just a definition of bullying and 'zero tolerance' in writing. So what does that mean? Nothing because everything is discretionary."
After Brooklyn was cut, "I was told the consequence was talking it out. As a matter of fact, he never had to say he was sorry. It was even more of a joke," Kristen said, with the boy telling Brooklyn, "'You're a loser, Brooklyn. Nothing that you ever do will ever stop me.'"
Brooklyn used to love going to school.
"Brooklyn absolutely felt like she was at the top of the world at that school since first grade. I never would've dreamt this would happen. She loved every single minute of school," Kristen said. "Brooklyn just adores all of her teachers."
They believe the bullying began after Brooklyn was elected school president last fall.
Earlier in the school year, Brooklyn's face was superimposed over nude photos and distributed. "It's not her," Kristen said. Within the past year, she had placed parental controls on her daughter's smartphone to monitor profanity, any words of suicidal tendencies, nudity, etc. "There has been none of that."
Brooklyn was "absolutely mortified, devastated," Kristen said.
The nudes resurfaced again this week, along with the desecrations of Brooklyn's face.
In early February, they had an intruder in their home. "The cops came before the person was able to get into her bedroom," Kristen said.
Awoken by the family dogs barking wildly, Brooklyn heard a young man's voice say "shut up" to the dogs. He knocked on her bedroom door as she hid in her closet.
"Right as he was knocking, thank God, my mom and a neighbor came into the house," Kristen said.
The Partlows immediately installed a state-of-the-art security system. One of the Partlows has a permit to carry, and they let their dogs remain untethered.
"I was worried about her safety because I had a terrible feeling about what this was leading up to, and it did," Kristen said.
The razor blade incident occurred a couple weeks later. Brooklyn reported that two boys came up to her during a free period and cut her leg. She went to the nurse's office, who didn't ask what happened, then went back to class. Kristen learned of the cut when it became infected. The Partlows filed a police report.
Kristen said a school official told the police that Brooklyn "sent mean messages" to the boys prior to the incident. Kristen said she was fully aware that Brooklyn told the boys to "knock it the hell off," after an entire year of bullying from them and repeatedly telling them to "stop."
The police officer asked Brooklyn if the razor possibly came from a pencil sharpener. Brooklyn said it was possible. Later, after seeing a classic razor, she identified that as the weapon.
Either way, it's a moot point, Kristen said. "It was still used as a deadly weapon. In Minnesota, the law is that if you even use as much as your fist as an intimidation tactic, even that is a criminal act."
It is a felony to assault someone with a deadly weapon.
A month later, the Hubbard County attorney told them that charges were dropped, Kristen recounted, adding that she would have been okay with just apologies and the bullying ending, if the boys had sincerely been sorry "instead of laughing about."
Kristen was surprised when, on Monday, Valley News Live reported, "The county attorney says no charges have been made yet, but that doesn't mean there won't be in the future."
When contacted by the Enterprise county attorney Jonathan Frieden said, "I am unable to disclose any information from the investigation due to its confidential nature. I can say, generally, that when my office does not make a decision to criminally charge, an element or elements of the offense(s) are missing or unable to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In the event additional information comes to light, my office can and does review files on the decision of charges. But again, in the case you are referring to no charges have been filed."
Students without a voice
Park Rapids School District policy defines bullying as "intimidating, threatening, abusive or hurtful conduct." It is a behavior pattern that either "involves an imbalance of power" or "significantly affects a student's ability to participate in school, classes or events. The fact that someone is simply offended is insufficient to meet this standard. There must be substantial interference with the student's educational opportunities or rights."
According to school policy, any person who believes he or she has been the victim of harassment or violence is encouraged to file a report that's available from the principal, building supervisor or district office. Verbal reports are also accepted.
Kristen is currently filling out paperwork for the school. "Even though I have so many pieces of correspondence that I had sent to them over the course of the year, they said I hadn't written them a formal complaint," she said. "I had spoken with them. I have many things I have written to them, all being so respectful."
Kristen said they have not yet initiated the homeschooling process. Brooklyn has not returned to Century Middle School for about three weeks. They inquired if Brooklyn could attend Nevis School, but was told it was too late in the school year.
"Brooklyn has lost her ability to go to school, and I just feel devastated," Kristen said, adding she
is an A or B student and has always excelled academically.
"I am sorry that so many others go through similar situations. I'm absolutely reeling," Kristen said. "When I began recognizing the severity of this and the lack of any concern, really - as a matter of fact, blaming the victim, that the school continuously did - I started to become really, really concerned for the many, many students who are not with a voice."
Citing the number of impoverished youth attending Park Rapids Schools, Kristen asked, "Who speaks out for them?"