Report: Evidence of discrimination at Greenway school

Iron Range newsEarlier this week I wrote a piece about the need for empathy amid racial discord on the Iron Range, mentioning the story of Isaiah Gatimu, a former Greenway student who faced racially-motivated harassment and later took his own life.

The Scenic Range News Forum obtained a copy of the report from the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, indicating that there was probable cause that Gatimu was severely harassed during his time at Greenway.

The story is well worth a read:

The Department of Human Rights labeled the abuse “severe and pervasive.” It said Greenway High School violated its own policies by failing to investigate all of the incidents, failing to keep records of the incidents and failing to prevent future occurrences. Therefore, the state said, Isaiah Gatimu was denied educational benefits because of his race, which violates the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

It’s hard to read the descriptions of the various kinds of abuses that Gatimu faced. It goes beyond the basic kinds of (also inexcusable) bullying one might recall from school. And the tepid, indifferent reaction by the district, both to the incidents and the resulting tragedy, and to this very story, is appalling.

One thing seems likely: the Greenway School District will have a major reckoning with this story, including a probable settlement that will sock this fiscally troubled district right between the eyes. But more important than any of that are the kids in the district now. What are the Greenway communities doing to see that this sort of thing never happens again? Or that incidents like this are handled promptly and in a way that allows healing, instead of division?

Anything short of that calls into question the competence and viability of the entire district, especially given their enormous cost overruns after severing shared administrative services with Nashwauk-Keewatin. More on that mess here, if you’re interested.


  1. It’s incomprehensible that there was no action taken about the bullying students’ acts other than a police liaison officer, hockey coach and principal just telling them the harassment had to stop. The report doesn’t say if the perpetrators’ parents were notified which one would think would be a normal action a school would take or not.

    I just don’t understand why this appalling harassment was not taken more seriously by school staff particularly since anti-bullying legislation in MN schools had been so prominent in the news and an anti-bullying task force was formed in 2012. I also cannot fathom how some groups in MN could fight so vehemently against anti-bullying.

  2. David Gray says

    >>I also cannot fathom how some groups in MN could fight so vehemently against anti-bullying.

    I’m sure that is a true statement.

  3. Sarah Lewerenz says

    The Greenway School District has also been rabidly anti-union for years. The number of court cases and arbitrations this one small district has been involved in is unbelievable. They treat there employees terribly. I don’t get why their voters continue to support this behavior.

  4. Sarah…Are you implying “rabidly anti-union” (which I’d question, but let’s go along with your assertion), equates to “treating there (their) employees terribly”? Can you help me connect those dots??

  5. I know the parents of one of the boys who was an alleged bully and they didn’t find out anything about it until they read his name on a Facebook post. If they had know that he was involved in bullying it would have come to a stop immediately. I don’t understand why the parents weren’t the first ones notified.

    • The parents of the bullies don’t have to be notified….that’s what the majority voted for. So you don’t necessarily know there is behavior in your own children that needs to be corrected. That is why people would vote against this type of legislation. As a parent I want to know if my child is the bully or has been bullied.

  6. I know the Greenway District very well having gone there and lived in the district my whole life and the only reason I can think of that this was not investigated fully is that the kid was not an athlete. I believe that if your not on a sports team Greenway doesn’t care about the student. I’ve seen first hand the preferential treatment of athletes in the district.

  7. Fred J, Not notifying parents, not even giving them a chance to do anything to help their kids understand the gravity of their actions is just a stunning dereliction of responsibility. Tragedy compounded with the perpetrators and their families having to deal with guilt and shame for the rest of their lives.

    David Gray, Why yes, what possible justification could anyone have for not supporting anti-bullying policies?

    • I don’t support the bully law for the specific part of the legislation that says the parents of the bully do not have to be notified. The are minors and all parties involved should have notification of a parent or guardian.

  8. Kissa: there is an idea that casting a school district in the role of “protector” is counterproductive and likely to reinforce the bad attitudes that such a policy seeks to address. Personally, I think there might be some merit to the idea of teaching shy, introverted kids useful life skills to navigate tricky situations rather than protect them from bullies. As regards David Gray’s comment, I think it contained little merit and was largely meant as a snarky “drive-by”…best blown off like an autumn leaf.

    I am relatively unfamiliar with Greenway, but like many small towns, it might be a somewhat insular, parochial place. In the modern world, its hard to get by with that for very long. WE all have a vengeful nature, and want a more “just” punishment for the bullies, maybe for the whole town. But is that right?

    • Threatening to hang someone and physically harming them is not acceptable in any situation, regardless of whether the person is introverted or shy. Someone threatening to kill someone and physically assaulting them, is a serious situation and should be handled as such. Simply brushing it off and ignoring it is not a useful or adequate solution.

  9. John Ramos says

    I certainly would like anyone who hits black students with a toy whip, chokes them and tells them to go back to Africa to receive just punishment. None of the examples in the report sounded like “tricky situations”; they sounded like out-and-out hazing, verging on torture. I can’t think of any useful life skills that would help you navigate torture, except for fighting your tormentors, which is nice if it works, but in reality the weak and the timid can get beat even more harshly if they fight back–especially if nobody’s looking out for them. It doesn’t sound like anybody was.

    The school was alerted to the situation more than once, and should have done something to the tormentors–banning them from sports would have been good, or expelling them from school altogether. Such punishments would have been right. Very right indeed.

  10. Are you kidding me? You put this burden to enforce this “lake Wobegon” law on school districts? On school teachers? It won’t happen..

    The answer is with families, not schools or school teachers.

    CHAPTER 160–H.F.No. 826
    An act relating to education; providing for safe and supportive schools by prohibiting bullying;

    (e) “Bullying” means intimidating, threatening, abusive, or harming conduct that is objectively offensive and:
    (1) there is an actual or perceived imbalance of power between the student engaging in prohibited conduct and the target of the behavior and the conduct is repeated or forms a pattern; or
    (2) materially and substantially interferes with a student’s educational opportunities or performance or ability to participate in school functions or activities or receive school benefits, services, or privileges.
    (f) “Cyberbullying” means bullying using technology or other electronic communication, including, but not limited to, a transfer of a sign, signal, writing, image, sound, or data, including a post on a social network Internet Web site or forum, transmitted through a computer, cell phone, or other electronic device.
    (g) Intimidating, threatening, abusive, or harming conduct may involve, but is not limited to, conduct that causes physical harm to a student or a student’s property or causes a student to be in reasonable fear of harm to person or property; under Minnesota common law, violates a student’s reasonable expectation of privacy, defames a student, or constitutes intentional infliction of emotional distress against a student; is directed at any student or students, including those based on a person’s actual or perceived race, ethnicity, color, creed, religion, national origin, immigration status, sex, marital status, familial status, socioeconomic status, physical appearance, sexual orientation, including gender identity and expression, academic status related to student performance, disability, or status with regard to public assistance, age, or any additional characteristic defined in chapter 363A. However, prohibited conduct need not be based on any particular characteristic defined in this paragraph or chapter 363A.

  11. John Ramos says

    That’s a nice copy-and-paste job, R47, but I’m not sure what you’re angry about. You don’t think the school district should have done anything?

  12. Yup, copy & past dear John. But’s it’s the law. Not angry at all. Simply exposing the absurd law the Range DFL’ers passed. Can you imagine being a teacher trying to comply with this madness?? And at the same time teaching the basics of reading, writing & math? This is why home schooling and enrollment in private schooling (where available) is on the rise.

  13. Oh dear John..
    I was bullied in grade school…as well as junior high. Maybe you were the exception and were not. But I had a loving, safe home to go home to. I was also indoctrinated with Sunday school (no bullying there). Then I became a high school wrestler and it went away. What a great one-on-one sport..

  14. Oh…dear John.
    If it wasn’t clear, the answer to both preventing, and dealing with, bullying isn’t to delegate it to the school superintendent, the teacher, the principal nor your friends and neighbors. And for God’s sake, don’t delegate it to the “state”. It’s a Mom & Dad responsibility.

  15. Wouldn’t you know, another bullying related issue being put on the schools and teachers plate to deal less time teach. No wonder the Finns, Asians and most other countries are beating the crap out of us at the K-12 level. My oh my…well, it’s what happens when we espouse – “it takes a community to raise a child”, not Mom & Dad.

    MSHSL Board approves transgender policy
    Dec. 4, 2014

    The Minnesota State High School League voted to approve a policy regarding transgender student athletes on high school sports teams Thursday. The policy will take effect for the 2015-2016 school year.

    The draft allows transgender students to participate in activities in line with their gender identity after turning in a confidential written request to their school. Any appeals would be handled by the league, and private schools would be exempt under state and federal law.

    “This policy is really ensuring that transgender students get to play the sport in the gender that they live every day,” MSHSL said.

    The policy also addresses locker rooms, reading, “Every student athlete and fine arts participant should have access to a locker room, bathroom and shower facility in a safe, comfortable and convenient environment. Such arrangements must be fully considered by member schools to ensure such access and privacy.”

    • This goes beyond simple bullying. And how do you expect parents to know if their child is harming another person in school. I very much doubt parents are attending school with their children. I also doubt that children tell their parents they have physically harmed someone and threatened to hang them. Also, I don’t understand why you think it is acceptable for anyone who witnesses the abuse of another person to simply ignore it and assume that someone else will do something about it.

  16. John Ramos says

    Doesn’t sound like Mom and Dad did too great of a job in this case.

    Your story about overcoming bullying by becoming a wrestler is a nice one that we hear a lot, especially in the movies–the bullied kid sticks up for himself and all is well. In my own life, I have seen this happen. But I have also observed that it doesn’t always work. Sometimes kids who try to stand up for themselves against bullies are picked on even more. They are simply too small, or too non-aggressive, or there’s only one of them against many.

    In any case, whether or not there’s a law against bullying, I would definitely say it’s the responsibility of the school to do something when kids are getting choked and called nigger. That’s not social engineering; it’s ethics.

  17. John Ramos says

    Your lack of compassion for the child who killed himself is astonishing.

  18. My hope is no one has to suffer John, and wish Isaiah hadn’t. But that’s not the world we live in. Isaiah is dead, so for him there’s no need for compassion. God will wipe away his tears; he’ll experience no more death, no more sorrow, no more crying, no more pain.

    It’s the living I’m concerned with. And to think the school system is the answer to prevent another child from suffering a fate such as Isaiah’s is passing the buck. It’s a distraction from the real problem, and solution. It’s therefore wicked and a waste of time. And astonishing only to those not wishing to take responsibility.

  19. I must say Ranger has outdone himself with this thread. Sad…

  20. John Ramos says

    I’m not saying the school system is the answer to anything, at least not in this particular discussion–that’s you slapping down your ideology over the conversation, as usual. I’m talking about one specific case. What’s really astonishing is that I have to actually defend my view that kids who call others nigger, choke them out in the hallway, and threaten to “hang them like their ancestors” should be punished. According to you, such punishment would be “wicked” and a “waste of time.” Assault and terroristic threats are against the law everywhere else, but in schools, apparently, you think they’re just fine. Man, oh man.

  21. Studies have shown that anti-bullying programs not only do not work, but they actually cause more bullying. Ranger47 is on the right track. Bullying has always been around and always will be. It is a heart issue. You aren’t going to stop it. Saying that, bullying that is caught should be punished. No child should have to be bullied. It is a horrible thing. I don’t think this new law is the answer. I attended Greenway more than 30 years ago. They had rules in place to deal with misbehavior way back then. I am sure they had them in place before this silly law went into effect. Maybe we need to go back to the 1960’s to a time before they took prayer and the Bible out of the public schools. Yes, they had bullies then, but the behavioral problems in school back then compared to now are on opposite ends of the scale.

  22. my words, pay attention. I’ve never said – “”it’s acceptable for anyone who witnesses the abuse of another person to simply ignore it and assume that someone else will do something about it”, never.

    What I have said is the primary responsibility for a child’s behavior is the parents, both parents, Mom & Dad. That by no mean absolves you, me, someone on the street , a teacher or a cop from stepping in and calling out evil when it’s taking place. I’ve done it many times. It’s my choice to do so. But don’t pass a law saying it’s my responsibility. That’s misguided liberalism, passing the buck and downright evil.

  23. John..relax, read what I’ve said. Here you go switching the conversation to one of what’s acceptable behavior when and where and what’s an acceptable punishment for a given action. Not sure how you got there but that’s not what’s being discussed.

  24. Cindy Muotka says

    I can believe it. I was bullied when I was in high school thirty some years ago. Today I deal with PTSD from those years.

  25. Most people remember bullying, from minor to much worse, going on in their elementary to high school years whether they were bullied themselves or not. There are family and peer risk factors for bullying. When bullies are asked why they do it, they often say it’s because:
    It makes me feel smarter, better than the other person.
    I’m bullied at home.
    It’s what you do if you want to hang out with the “right” crowd.
    I see others do it.
    I’m jealous of the other person.
    Aggressive bullies crave power and attention. Most bullying goes on out of sight of school staff. The students who are bullied often don’t tell anyone even their parents. I think most teachers and other employees at schools want to know about bullying incidents so it can be stopped. Bullying negatively affects everyone, communities, schools, students, teachers as well as the person being bullied. It’s heartening to read about students forming groups in their schools to counter bullying, positive peer pressure. Clear anti-bullying policies with follow through are needed. Identifying bullies shouldn’t be all about punishment but counseling too. If they haven’t learned kindness or respect and if they don’t understand how bullying makes the other person feel, they may remain bullies for life. Or learning this too late and living for the rest of their lives with the knowledge and deep regret that their bullying caused irreparable harm to others.

  26. kissa…You are right on.

  27. No body is for bullying. The answers to bullying are with fellow students, parents, teachers and local authority. I am totally against a program outta DC or St Paul that will be filled with Blue Panel experts and psycho babble that does nothing to stop the behavior. MN had 100 different guidelines and other crap in place to solve this problem when Isaiah’s life ended. None of it helped that poor young man when he needed it the most. As with most things in life, the answers are closer to home and less complicated than folks want us to believe.

  28. Fast-forward 18 months or so, and it appears little has changed at Greenway. I am the father of an autistic son who has experienced bullying at the school since we moved to Coleraine last May. When my son finally had enough and socked one of the kids who was bullying him, my kid was suspended for defending himself – because of the typical one-size-fits-nobody failure of a policy handed down by the school board, I suppose.

    There was another incident today, and I have had enough. Things have got to change.

  29. 8 years later and the world has gotten worse thanks to the short-fingered reactionary bully.

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