A 12-year-old bi-racial boy is facing a felony charge after he brought a butterfly knife to school after being bullied and repeatedly called the N-word at his school in Ottawa, Kansas.
The grade-schooler — who is Black and Native American — reportedly also was told to “go back to picking cotton.”
According to the boy’s attorney Vincent Rivera, the bully allegedly told the boy to “stop coming to school” or “I am going to hurt you” prior to hitting the boy and knocking him down. The abuse started when the family moved to Ottawa in 2019, and the boy often refused to get out of bed to go to school because he was afraid.
In December, the bully knocked the boy down and told him, “If you keep coming to school, it’s going to get worse.”
After his mother told school officials about her son being bullied, no action was taken and she was told she would be charged with truancy if her son did not return to school. The boy did return to school, but he brought a 1.5-inch butterfly knife with him, which he said he did not plan to use unless he was attacked again by the bullies. His mother also said she didn’t trust the authorities at the school to protect her child.
According to The Kansas City Star, the boy appeared in a Franklin County court on June 26 for a “criminal threat charge” that if committed by an adult would be considered a “level-9 felony.”
The state also reportedly threatened a child support order against the boy’s mother in the instance he would be removed from the home. She and her husband moved to the area from Oklahoma to be closer to her husband’s family. The outlet is not publishing their names for the safety of the family.
“He feels like he’s being punished for trying to defend himself,” said his mother.
Two 13-year-old students testified that the boy fidgeted with the knife during class. He later told the witnesses that he would use the knife if he were attacked again, and one of the witnesses told an authority at the school, and that authority called the police.
Rivera says that individuals are allowed to use force to defend themselves against legitimate threats, according to the laws in Kansas, and argued that the boy experienced a pattern of bullying that worsened over the years. He also argued that the adults did not make any meaningful attempts to stop the threats and forced him to return to school.
The boy’s younger brother also was bullied at his elementary school and on the bus, and his mother said it got worse when he began attending Ottawa Middle School. She said she complained almost daily to the school, but the bullying worsened. Her younger son was called a dirty N-word as the bullies pulled his hair, prompting his mother to shave his head.
Security footage of the bullying identified the students who bullied the middle schooler, but to his knowledge, no one was ever punished, and he said that it felt like the school prioritized the white students. Instead, her child was given a pass to leave the classroom to decompress from the abuse. The incident was reported to the school board, but she reportedly never received a response. He was also told, “No one likes Black kids here at our school.”
The older brother also was hit with a piece of wood near the school, and the police were called. However, no one was ever arrested.
The mother said that she had to leave her 9-5 job and take a night job due to the constant bullying so that she could meet with school officials.
The population of Ottawa is 12,600, and it is nearly 90 percent white. The rural town is 2.3 percent Black and only 0.8 percent Native American. The family now avoids going into town for supplies and often goes to the town of Olathe nearby for clothing and food.
“If I try to go out, then I’m usually scared about racist stuff,” said the boy. “So, I usually just stay in my room.”
Another parent at the school said, “There’s a lot of country boys and rednecks around here, and there aren’t a lot of Black people,” adding that one of his children commutes to Olathe so that he can be around more Black people. He also said that his step-children have dealt with racism from other students, teachers and people in the community.
“I think that’s one of the biggest issues with this town,” he said. “Because there’s not a lot of Black people here, they think they can just run them over.”
The 12-year-old boy was eventually diagnosed with anxiety and major depressive disorder, and he was also suspended for 10 days for bringing the knife to school. He began going to an alternative school in Ottawa during the suspension, and his mood improved considerably.
“A couple of weeks after being at that school, you could see a complete difference in (my son),” said his mom. “His attitude towards school, his attitude at home, his responses to getting school work done. Not being scared to go to school.”
However, the school district wanted to return the boy to Ottawa Middle School because he wasn’t a “troubled kid” and wasn’t allowed to stay at the alternative school. Shortly after being forced to go back to his old school, the same bullying continued, and her son again had trouble getting up for school.
The mother has now decided to send her children to a free boarding school for Native American students in Oklahoma more than five hours away from home to escape the bullying.
The children will be able to come home for at least one long weekend per month as well as holidays, summers and spring breaks. She said her son was excited about growing out and dying his hair.
“There’s too much hate in this town,” said his mother. “And it’s not OK.”