A school story with no easy answer
It’s a story about Hudson High School -- administrators and students -- that has a lot of people upset, a lot of people concerned and some people affected for a long time to come. It involves allegations of bullying, suicide attempts, harassment, death threats, restraining orders and an arrest.
Who’s to blame?
This newspaper has looked at information from both the school district and the arguments offered by the mother of a HHS senior Evan Groehler. In many ways it’s a “he said-she said” situation. The truth may lie somewhere in the middle.
Lisa Groehler called the newspaper and wanted a story about the bullying being suffered by her son Evan, and the school administration’s “inability” to address and deal with the situation. While the idea of that story was being considered, Evan Groehler, now 19, was charged by the St. Croix County District Attorney’s office with four criminal counts: disorderly conduct, telephone harassment, computer message (Facebook)-threaten/injury or harm and harassment.
The school also obtained temporary restraining orders, petitioned by Principal Peg Shoemaker and other school administrators, barring both Evan and Lisa Groehler from having contact with school personnel.
The two sides appeared to reach some agreement in circuit court Monday and the restraining orders were lifted, but an injunction remains in place. It means Evan and Lisa Groehler have to follow a number of conditions, including no contact with the restraining order petitioners, no harassment, no entering school property, surrender of firearms and more.
Lisa Groehler said all the trouble started when Evan broke up with his longtime girlfriend last fall. She alleges the girlfriend, and some of her male and female friends, began picking on Evan, then a member of the HHS boys swim team. Eventually the harassment also targeted Evan’s younger sibling.
She claims the bullying included punching and urinating on his brother, Evan’s car being vandalized, locker room hazing and -- a big item in the arguments -- threats and photos posted to Facebook.
“Evan tried to commit suicide three times,” Groehler said. “The last time was in late January.”
The Groehlers finally decided they had enough and pulled Evan out of school to complete his senior year through an online program. Groehler said they complained about the bullying to both the school and Hudson police, but nothing was done.
“The school has done nothing to protect this kid,” Groehler said.
The Hudson Police Department and school officials did investigate Groehler’s bullying charges, but wrote in the final criminal complaint against Evan Groehler “The claims of bullying are all unsubstantiated and unfounded.”
“Lies, lies – much of it made up,” is how Lisa describes the language in the criminal complaint against Evan and in the restraining orders. “They’re just trying to create distractions because they didn’t follow policies.”
He’s a good boy who has a swimming scholarship to Hamline University next fall,” Groehler said.
Charges in the 17-page criminal complaint, however, paint a different picture of the HHS senior and his mother.
According to the complaint, Evan and Lisa showed up at a senior awards night for the Hudson swim team on Jan. 16, even though Evan had allegedly quit the team on Jan. 9. Evan did not receive a senior award and Lisa Groehler allegedly broke into a profane-filled outburst at the banquet, something Lisa denies.
The complaint said several parents called the school and said they were concerned about the “bizarre behavior of the Groehlers.” Some expressed concern about the safety of swim team members.
On Jan. 29, the complaint alleges that Lisa Groehler showed up at the school and moved about the building without permission, demanding to see an administrator or she allegedly said she would “disrupt swimming practice.” On Feb. 3, the district arranged to have security at swim practices through Feb. 13.
The complaint goes on to describe a text message sent by Evan to members of the swim team: I am going to finish this with (student name) that fat little XXXXXX better shut his XXXXXXX mouth. I am out for blood and if you or anyone else gets in my way I’ll come for you -- I’m done, I’ve put up with enough.
At about the same time, Lisa posted pictures of firearms on her Facebook page.
Evan said the post was not meant as a threat of violence and that by saying he was “out for blood” meant that he was going to share secrets about students using drugs and alcohol. Lisa said that she and her husband are avid shooters and often have pictures of them shooting on Facebook.
Administrators, however, saw it as a threat. As a result, the restraining orders included the removal of firearms from the Groehler home. Lisa said they are now stored at the home of a friend.
The restraining order contained several other Facebook postings, including one from Evan that read more graphically: “If you XXXX with (name of student) in any way I will XXXXXXX kill you.”
Meanwhile, Evan’s online classes were not going as well as hoped and a meeting with administrators was scheduled April 11. The session deteriorated into a shouting match. Another meeting was scheduled on April 14. Evan allegedly made a threatening comment: “You are lucky I am not at your school. I would do something.”
Evan stormed out of the meeting moments later. Administrators viewed that as a threat. Lisa Groehler views it as frustration with the school for not dealing with the bullying situations.
On April 22 the district sent a letter to Evan, prohibiting him from entering onto school property or attending any school events irrespective of where they are held.
Through it all, Lisa Groehler is still hopeful that Evan can attend graduation.
As late as May 8, associate principal Josh Halvorson, who Lisa calls the only administrator willing to help, outlined a plan to help Evan graduate.
Lisa said Evan would be willing to accept the plan, but with one stipulation according to the Groehler’s therapy team -- that Evan be allowed to walk with his peers at the graduation ceremony. Lisa hopes he can walk because Evan’s grandfather is in ill health.