Onward and Upward

Onward and Upward

ONWARD AND UPWARD

“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

I believe I am not alone when I say that the later part of December holds many thoughts reflecting upon the past year. January seems like a better time to reflect with the holidays behind us, and nevertheless, the December calendar begs us to look back on our journey as well as turn around and look forward. Maybe the chaos of the holiday, family, friends, food and shopping shake things up even more so that quiet reflection becomes an oasis in the midst of the pandemonium.

“How did we get here,” is a thought that I come back to quite often. It was January of 2018 that we officially opened our BRRC office even though we started working with a few families prior to that. January 2023 will mark the beginning of our sixth year. We as an organization are steadfast to our mission, “BRRC defends bullied children and helps rebuild lives.” We have evolved and found our footing as where we can best serve that mission in these last five years.  We empower families to defend their children where the bullying occurs. We preach that it is the adult’s responsibility to STOP bullying and that no child ever deserves to be bullied.

2022
This past year has given BRRC an opportunity to lay more foundation to meet the growing need of our services. Some of the highlights of the past year include:

  • Assisting and empowering a record number of families since January 2022. (Just this last year alone, we have doubled the number of families we have served since we opened our doors!)
  • Outreach and partnering with mental health experts with an emphasis on suicide prevention and trauma.
  • Partnering and educating in the special needs and neurodiverse communities.
  • Assist with updating the Colorado Department of Education’s Model Bullying Policy and assuring that the 2021 passing of Jack and Cait’s lawwould aid bullying targets across the state.
  • Continued to partner with legal resources, when necessary, with the goal of assuring bullying targets a safe education and holding school districts accountable to take appropriate actions to stop bullying and make schools a safe environment for learning.
  • Partner with The Circle app to provide “Parents of Bullied Children” a place to meet other parents and gain support, ideas and hope.
  • We hosted our First Annual Upstander 5K with the support of runners/walkers, volunteers, amazing community partners and generous sponsors!
  • We have invested in updating our advocacy efforts with an online tracking tool to better assist the families we serve.

2023:
The BRRC buzzword for this new year is “expansion.” Here are some of the goals we have identified for the next 12 months.

  • Continue our focus on working statewide. Our outreach this last year has included the Colorado Springs area, northern Colorado, the western slope and mountain communities.  Our outreach efforts will continue in the metro area and beyond.
  • BRRC will begin producing and distributing educational videos that will assist any family dealing with bullying.
  • Partner with organizations in the LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC communities to offer our resources and provide education.
  • We will be training and onboarding volunteer advocates to help families across Colorado.
  • Host our bigger and better 2nd Annual Upstander 5K in October 2023.

Looking to help? Here’s how:
As BRRC continues to expand, we are asking for support in several ways:

  • If you know a community or organization that could benefit from the resources BRRC offers and our expertise, please point them to us. We can speak to groups and meet with individuals and offer brochures to be distributed to anyone effected by bullying.
  • If you’re looking to make an end of year contribution, you can help BRRC to the finish line with an investment in The Dodge Family Fund (additional details below.) Your donation will go twice as far!
  • In January and February BRRC will provide details about volunteer positions. We will be training advocates and other volunteers to enable us to offer hope to more families and communities affected by bullying.
  • Plan on becoming an UPSTANDER and participate in our 2nd Annual 5K in October 2023. We are looking for sponsors and community partners to make this event one to not miss!
  • If you know of a family who is dealing with bullying, have them contact us. We can be reached via phone (303) 991-1397, or by filling out information on our BRRC website.

All of us at BRRC wish you peace and kindness this holiday season. We especially wish the families we have assisted some valuable time to nurture, heal and rest. Here’s to a new year of expansion, inclusion, compassion and upstanders.

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

By Dru Ahlborg
Executive Director
Bullying Recovery Resource Center

Giving Thanks

Giving Thanks

Giving Thanks:

Growing and Evolving With Great People on the Journey 

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.” – John F. Kennedy

This past year has afforded BRRC an opportunity to grow, learn, organize, scramble and to be incredibly grateful. We started our organization with the idea that bullying targets and their families would not need to wade through trauma of bullying alone. I describe us as being an organization that is in the “deep end” of the pool. We are here when the system and the school are not addressing bullying. We jump in with the family and empower them to swim to the side of the pool. The family often feels like they are drowning, and we can offer support, hope, ideas and resources to assure the child is safe.

Gratitude is defined as “the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” Indeed, we at BRRC are incredibly grateful for the tribe of people we get to interact and work with. We are deeply thankful to so many that have joined us on some or all of this journey. We couldn’t do it without you!

Clients: We have met the most incredibly brave, powerful and hearty families in our advocacy work with BRRC. The parents we have spoken with are dedicated, loving and generally exhausted by the time they have contacted us. In the past year we have worked one-on-one with over 75 families in Colorado. We are honored to meet such amazing families who don’t give up. You are the life-blood of our organization.

Resources: BRRC uses, provides and recommends resources for our families. We know incredible resources in the legal community, the disability community, the mental health community and the LGBTQ+ community. Our community has taught us so much and has allowed us to better serve the families we assist.

Partners in mental-health, adolescent services, and schools: We have had the opportunity to speak in forums, with mental-health workers, at health-fairs, on podcasts and at schools to educate others about bullying and how to stop it. We host an online forum every other week to speak with “Parents of Bullied Children” on the Circles application. We are grateful to help educate and to become a resource with other partners to help stop bullying.

Volunteers: BRRC is blessed to have volunteers to assist with our advocacy and also with our First Annual 5K this year. Our volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds and have an enormous amount of energy, kindness and compassion.

The BRRC Board of Directors: Our board is tasked with growing our organization and providing assistance to bullying targets across Colorado. We have a wealth of knowledge, experience and passion on our BRRC board.

Corporate sponsors/partners and grants: BRRC has received financial support and donations from a variety of organizations and companies in Colorado. In addition, we have been awarded grants this year from The Kiwanis Foundation, The Autrey Foundation, and The Dodge Family Fund.

Individual contributors and supporters: The BRRC supporters come from all of the previous categories I’ve mentioned, and many others who believe in our mission and our work. We are deeply thankful to those who contribute to us and share our information with others. We could not carry out our work of defending bullied children and rebuilding lives without those who believe in our lifesaving work and are willing to tell others about it and help contribute to our organization.

Thank you does not seem to cover the amount of gratitude we have. Putting a stop to bullying and creating a world with more kindness and inclusivity takes the work of all of us. We are enormously grateful for the assistance and help we have been afforded. We appreciate you!

“Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.” – Eckhart Tolle

By Dru Ahlborg
Executive Director
Bullying Recovery Resource Center

The Story of a Special Needs Client

The Story of a Special Needs Client

The Story of a Special Needs Client 

This month I am going to share with you the story of one of our clients. We first met this young man’s parents via a frantic phone call after we watched a video of horrific physical bullying that was shared on social media. That phone call happened in October 2020. We have been working with the family ever since. 

The young man was 13 years old and was in 8th grade in middle school in October 2020. His favorite thing on the planet is The Denver Broncos. He throughly enjoyed playing football. This adolescent has a genetic condition that qualifies him for special education and related services. He has been on an individualized educational plan (IEP) since 2010. He has been bullied for much of his schooling, and upon entering middle school in 6th grade, the bullying escalated dramatically.

Our client began being targeted for bullying just two days after beginning his 6th grade year in 2018 and it continued and soared up until the last day he attended school in October 2020. In his 6th grade year he endured a black-eye, a concussion, bruises and multiple injuries all due to bullying. He was continually verbally assaulted. Not only did this student report his torments to his mother, the school principal and the school counselor, but his parents did too. His parents were in contact with school administrators over a dozen times that school year to report the bullying of their son. His parents reached out to the school district just one month after school had started and did not receive any response. They also filed a police report in December when their son suffered a black-eye due to physical bullying.

Our client’s 7th grade year was littered with bullying incidents and reports to school administrators. The administrators failed to come up with any solution to protect him while at school. The physical bullying continued and he came home with scratches, a swollen eye and a concussion. He was verbally targeted for his clothing. His headphones were taken and hidden from him. He was threatened and labeled as a “snitch” for reporting the bullying to the school. He was filmed and the video was distributed on social media labeling him as a “retard.”

In the first week of this child’s 8th grade year his phone was taken, he was verbally assaulted and threatened with physical harm. In September, he was assaulted in the gym by a group of kids who had continually harassed him. He was hit on the back of the head several times and had to leave school after he hit the ground and reported having a bad headache and threw up. He had endured another concussion. Upon his mother discussing the incident with a school administrator she was informed that it was “just playing around.” The bullying continued to escalate with increased verbal harassment and being told to kill himself. On October 19, the bullying target was brutally assaulted in the school hallway and it was filmed and later posted on social media. The plaintiff was hit a total of 27 times and his head began to bleed and start to swell. That was his last day of attending his school.

This young man has endured more trauma than most adults I know. The last physical attack left him with a concussion. His face continued to swell over the next two weeks and he lost functioning of his mouth and was unable to talk. He was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy and lives with ramifications of that today. He no longer can play football. The adolescent who attacked him has been to court and received sentencing as a result of the violence he inflicted.

This child, our client, is currently a plaintiff in a lawsuit that has been made against his former school district. The bravery and stamina of this young man and his parents is absolutely amazing. Through advocacy of BRRC, the legal expertise of Igor Raykin of The Colorado Law Team, the family has landed here with a lawsuit. The school failed to take any appropriate action to protect this bullying target. The bullying was left unabated and it escalated to a dramatic and permanent level. Even after the brutal attack, the school failed to take measures to provide a safe environment for him to receive an education he is entitled to. 

To learn more about this, please read the story written by The Daily Sentinel in Grand Junction here. A video news story about this family and the lawsuit is also available courtesy of KKCO in Grand Junction here.

Any bullying is unacceptable, and a school and a district not protecting bullying targets after it has been reported in completely irresponsible and tragic. 

By Dru Ahlborg
Executive Director
Bullying Recovery Resource Center

Family files lawsuit against District 51 after son’s bullying

Family files lawsuit against District 51 after son’s bullying

Photo used with permission from The Grand Junction Sentinel: From left: Nathan Harford, Amber Harford, Igor Raykin and Tom Ahlborg.

 

 
Author: Nathan Deal

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. —

A Grand Junction family recently filed a civil lawsuit against Mesa County Valley School District 51, alleging that the district failed to protect their child from consistent abuse and bullying in school.

Amber and Nathan Harford, with the assistance of anti-bullying advocacy group Bullying Recovery Resource Center, sent a Gebser Letter — a letter that formally notifies a school or district about allegations of bullying — to the district in December 2020, detailing abuses against their child while they were enrolled at Orchard Mesa Middle School.

The letter included incidents reported to Orchard Mesa Middle School and District 51 from the fall 2018 to fall 2020 semesters, including an incident in which the child was hit 27 times in the head by a fellow student while a group of students filmed the assault, an incident that Bullying Recovery Resource Center Chairman Tom Ahlborg said has still left the child’s face partially paralyzed because of bell’s palsy.

“He’s been ruthlessly targeted. He hasn’t been in school for two years,” Ahlborg told The Daily Sentinel. “He’s been going to online school, but he’s never been back in-person to school, not because of the pandemic but because school’s just not safe for him. Obviously, a developmentally disabled kid or special-needs kid doesn’t thrive with online learning. However, there’s not really been a lot of options for the district.”

Because of that alleged lack of options from the district and a general sentiment that the district hasn’t prioritized their concerns, the Harfords at the start of September filed a lawsuit against District 51 under the Claire Davis School Safety Act, which waives a school or district’s sovereign immunity if it failed to provide “reasonable care” for students who are victims of murder, violence or sexual assault.

The law is named after an Arapahoe High School student who was shot and killed at the school in 2013 by a fellow student.

“We’ve been trying to work with the School District and we’ve just gotten nowhere as far as their accountability,” Ahlborg said. “For so long, they wouldn’t even offer protection to this kid. They were just trying to force him back into school…. The school district has just dragged their feet, so finally, this is a lawsuit that’s been filed against them.”

District 51 provided the following statement to The Daily Sentinel:

“Mesa County Valley School District 51 takes the safety and security of our students and staff extremely seriously. We are aware of the lawsuit that has been filed and we will vigorously defend the allegations that have been made, in a court of law.”

The Bullying Recovery Resource Center, partnering with the Montrose-based organization PEER Kindness, spearheaded efforts to get the state to expand its anti-bullying laws in the past few years. Gov. Jared Polis signed Jack and Cait’s Law into effect in June 2021.

Jack and Cait’s Law requires the Colorado Department of Education to use a stakeholder process when updating its policy for bullying prevention. The process must include parents of students who were subjected to bullying. This policy clearly identifies the difference between a conflict and bullying, as well as harassment and bullying. The law also clarifies the role of cyberbullying during online instruction, whether off or on school property.

The law was named after two students in Colorado who died by suicide: Montrose’s Caitlyn Haynes in 2015 and Cherry Creek’s Jack Padilla in 2019. Haynes’ parents founded PEER Kindness shortly after their daughter’s death and Padilla’s father sits on the Bullying Recovery Resource Center Board of Directors.

For Ahlborg, the best way to honor these parents and their children’s legacies is to use the legislation their deaths inspired to hold school districts accountable when students’ cries of bullying are seemingly going unheard.

Ahlborg said that his organization is going to be involved in lawsuits against other districts, but this lawsuit against District 51 is the Bullying Recovery Resource Center’s first major civil suit involvement “because it’s so horrifying what’s happened to this young man.”

“Now is the time for these types of lawsuits to happen. Now’s the time because bullying is just out of control in schools,” Ahlborg said. “After Jack and Cait’s Law was just put in that schools are now supposed to investigate bullying and are required to ask about the imbalance of power and investigate whether that’s apparent… now is the time to really get school districts’ attention to properly investigate bullying so they don’t end up in Mesa County School District 51’s shoes.”

 

Read the story on the Sentinel website.

 
BRRC sues District 51 for negligence following severe beating

BRRC sues District 51 for negligence following severe beating

Photo used with permission from The Grand Junction Sentinel: From left:  Igor Raykin and Tom Ahlborg.

 

Watch the video here

By KKCO Staff

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) – Two years ago, video of an altercation between two students at Orchard Mesa Middle School surfaced on social media. The video shows one student repeatedly punching a special needs student in the face. Now, two years later, the student’s parents are suing District 51 with the help of Bullying Recovery Resource Center, a Denver-based advocacy group.

The student and the family’s names have been omitted for the safety of the student.

The suit alleges that the school failed to protect a disabled student— which the suit argues is something schools are legally required to do. A letter sent to the district on Nov. 5, 2020 details approximately 30 instances of bullying over a period of two and a half years, and the frequent urging from both the parents and BRRC to take some form of preventative measures.

District 51 issued the following statement on the suit:

“Mesa County Valley School District 51 takes the safety and security of our students and staff extremely seriously. We are aware of the lawsuit that has been filed and we will vigorously defend the allegations that have been made, in a court of law.”

The victim of the assault sustained permanent injuries, including partial facial paralysis and disfiguring scarring, and the child’s parents say that they aren’t willing to send him back to school without his safety guaranteed.

The family’s attorney, Igor Raykin, said that they have repeatedly asked the school for a safety plan, but the school hasn’t followed through on that or a number of other responsibilities. “We not only haven’t received a safety plan, but we haven’t received a special education plan from them for a long time as well. It’s up to them to know what’s going on with this child, but they’ve basically given up on that responsibility,” said Raykin.

“When we tried to help not just with the bullying, it was really identified that there was a denial of [Free Appropriate Public Education] going on prior to this with this child as well, because the evaluations they were conducting for this child was with a school nurse.” said Tom Ahlborg, Chairman and Director of BRRC. “The child suffers from some significant developmental disabilities. It’s a genetic condition. That is something that really goes beyond the scope [of a school nurse.]”

Ahlborg said that the school refused to consult experts about the child’s condition. When they requested an independent educational evaluation, Ahlborg says the school pushed back and claimed that they had to use school nurses. “It took us going out and raising the money, we actually paid for it,” said Ahlborg. “Because the school was really denying that this child needed an evaluation. Obviously, when it came back, he needed that evaluation.”

“We have represented numerous special needs students over the years against this district. I don’t know how else to put this, except to say that this district almost functions as an enemy of special needs kids,” said Raykin. “I have never seen so much outright hostility against special needs kids as I have from this district.”