Family threatens legal action against school

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(ABC 6 News) – A family is speaking out against the Wabasha-Kellogg school district after they say their child was bullied and harassed.

“It’s supposed to be a safe place for kids,” Angie said.

On December 5th, a classmate airdropped an explicit picture of the 14-year-old victim to several students in the cafeteria while at school – with this victim having no idea the photo had even been taken.

“(My son) came home from school and filled me in on what happened and I thought, how could this happen at school,” said Angie.

The school had also called the mother to fill her in on the day’s events.

After that incident, the family says the bullying continued.

The district’s superintendent Jim Freihammer would not interview with us, but sent us this statement which reads, in part:

“The district has created numerous policies and procedures to investigate student concerns and complaints…”

“…That policy provides a fair and impartial process, as well as numerous options for parents or guardians to appeal and/or provide additional information if they disagree with the district’s determination or disciplinary recommendation…”

On January 10, the district decided to suspend the accused student for five days, something the victim’s mom Angie believes isn’t enough.

“Where’s his justice? This is telling kids it’s okay to go take a picture and it’s okay to airdrop pictures in school. It’s okay to bully somebody for two weeks, bully somebody for years, and you’ll get a couple of days of vacation cause that’s exactly what Jim gave this kid — five days of vacation,” Angie said.

She says many students feel that speaking up against bullying has not made it stop.

“These students are to the point of why, why go tell a staff member because they don’t feel like anything will ever be done. It’s just the history there — everything just feels like it gets swept under the rug, the way the students feel.”

This case is currently in the Wabasha County Attorney’s office awaiting a decision on any possible charges.

Jack Rice is not directly connected to this case but is an attorney and former prosecutor who handles these types of cases. He says a case like this could even lead to child pornography charges, even though the suspect is a minor.

“There’s no distinction between those juveniles and adults,” said former prosecutor Rice.

And Rice says, if convicted, the penalties can be harsh.

“If you’re convicted of something like this, you would be required to register as a sex offender and that is an extraordinarily burdensome thing, especially if you’re a kid,” Rice explained.

Angie decided that for her son’s mental health unless the accused child is expelled, her son will not be returning to the school.

“He doesn’t feel safe. School is supposed to be a safe place to go and it’s not. It’s not down here,” Angie said.

Now, five other concerned parents reached out to tell similar stories about their children.

They all wished to stay anonymous, but they all said they were disappointed with what they call a lack of action by the district.

The school district released the following statement:

Dear Families,

We are writing to provide some information and to ask for your assistance related to a serious incident that occurred in our school last month. I know there continues to be a great deal of discussion around this situation in our community, particularly on social media.

As we communicated to our secondary families at the time of the incident, in December we were made aware of a student sharing a picture over social media that included nudity. Although this kind of behavior is not acceptable wherever and whenever it happens, the picture was not taken at school and it was not taken during the school year. As such, the District had no control over those initial actions. However, it was not until several months later that the picture was shared at school, making it a school issue.

As a result of this incident, Officer Venz and Officer Wagoner went into classrooms of affected grade levels to discuss appropriate and inappropriate use of social media.

After being made aware of the incident, the District then followed Board Policy 522 (Title IX Sex Non-discrimination Policy) in investigating the incident and issuing the appropriate disciplinary action. This policy provides for a fair and impartial process, with options for parents and guardians to appeal and/or provide additional information if they disagree with the District’s findings.

While we understand that you may want to know more details, due to state and federal privacy laws, the District is not able to provide any further information about the students involved or the discipline issued. However, we want our families to know that we have taken this situation very seriously and have closely followed both board policy and all relevant state and federal laws.

We will continue to reinforce with our students the importance of proper behavior in school and the responsible use of social media and personal electronic devices. We urge everyone to be careful about what they share online. Even with platforms like Snapchat, which delete photos after a set time period, it is possible for users to take screenshots and share images with others.

We need your help as we teach our children that everything on social media is public and permanent. Please discuss appropriate uses of social media and technology with your children. We value your partnership in reinforcing this message at home.

The safety and well-being of our students remains our number one priority. Thank you for your attention to this important update.

Wabasha-Kellogg School District #811

ABC 6 News chose not to reveal the last name of the family in this story to avoid identifying the juvenile victim of sexual harassment.