Parents Seek Change Following Daughter's Suicide at Milaca School
Pictures of 12-year-old Stephanie Johnson fill every room but her family home still feels empty. The sixth grader was found in a Milaca school bathroom on April 27. She was airlifted to a Twin Cities hospital and died four days later.
Her parents are now speaking out on conversations they remember having with their daughter. "She said that the kids told her to go kill herself, which distressed me a lot," Melissa Johnson, Stephanie's mother, said. "So I made some phone calls to the school to notify them and to make them aware this is not okay. It's not just bullying. They're actually telling her to harm herself."
Stephanie's parents believe bullying at school is to blame for their daughter's suicide. "These words - just words - took my little girl," said Chad Johnson, her father. "Someone told her to just go to the bathroom and kill herself. And that's what she did."
The Milaca school district's anti-bullying policy, which is posted online, reads in part:
1. We will not bully others
2. We will try to help students who are bullied
3. We will try to include students who are left out
4. If we know that somebody is being bullied, we will tell an adult at school and at home
"Policies are worthless unless you're willing to follow them," said Jeffrey Montpetit, an attorney.
Montpetit and attorney Jeff Storms are considering taking the case and bringing legal action against those responsible for protecting the sixth grader's civil rights. "It's not standard operating procedure to have multiple suicides in a school district in a short period of time among children," said Storms.
Stephanie Johnson's suicide is the second in the Milaca School District in the last school year. The district's website says it's made up of just 1,900 students from kindergarten to 12th grade. "It shouldn't take two kids lives for you to step up to the plate and do something," Melissa Johnson said. Stephanie's mom carries a printout of her daughter's final heartbeat in a small jar everywhere she goes. She says it helps remind her to hang on to hope.
"If they were more proactive and dealt with the bullies and the kids being bullied and reached out as to why they're doing this, reached out to the kids who are being hurt, I think there just has to be a change," she said.
The Milaca School District wouldn't comment on whether there is an ongoing internal investigation regarding this incident.
Superintendent Tim Truebenbach sent the following statement: "There is no information that can be provided in response to your questions. Information about students and parents is classified as private data under both state (Minnesota Government Data Practices Act) and federal (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) law, and the release of private data is prohibited. We will respect the privacy rights of our students and parents."
Data collected by the Minnesota Department of Education says from 2014 through 2017 there was one bullying incident and zero cyber-bullying incidents that resulted in a disciplinary action of a one-day suspension or more in the Milaca School District. This past school year's data isn't yet available.