Rocori school district settles lawsuit with family over alleged racial harassment

A woman hugs a younger girl.
Cold Spring, Minn., resident Andrea Robinson, pictured with her daughter Olivia Williams in 2021
Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News

The Rocori school district has agreed to pay $140,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a Cold Spring, Minn., woman who said her children experienced racist bullying and harassment at school.

Andrea Robinson filed the lawsuit last year on behalf of two of her two children, who are Black. It accused the district of civil rights violations for failing to respond to repeated reports of harassment, including racial slurs and threats in classrooms, hallways, on buses and online.

Robinson said her children are still dealing with the impact.

"It's hard because I can't fix them, and no amount of money can change the impact,” she said. “There's nothing that will ever, ever change what my kids went through. And I truly hope no other kids have to go through it."

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The settlement money will be divided between the two children, Robinson said, and will help with counseling and higher education costs.

“The most meaningful part of the settlement was that my children felt validated that what they went through was not OK,” she said. “Validation is really all we wanted for my kids — to be acknowledged that what happened was wrong, and be validated that it should never happen.”

In a statement, Tim Sullivan, an attorney for the Rocori school district, said the case was settled by the district’s insurer. He said the school district has consistently denied any wrongdoing, and the terms of the agreement reflect that the district does not admit any liability.

“The school district looks forward to moving beyond this matter and continuing to provide an excellent education to all of its learners,” Sullivan stated.

In 2021, Robinson sparked a communitywide debate after she posted a video on social media, voicing her frustrations about ongoing harassment of her children.

She said the harassment included a group of high school students starting a Snapchat group about her daughter and making threats about lynching. 

A view of a crowded city council chambers.
People fill the Cold Spring City Council chambers on July 27, 2021, in Cold Spring, Minn.
Dave Schwarz | St. Cloud Times

Robinson also raised her concerns to the Rocori school board, which promised to investigate and develop an action plan to address racism and bullying in the district. So far, the results of that investigation have not been made public.

Robinson said she hopes recent turnover in district leadership could lead to positive changes, but believes more transparency is needed.

“The only way to establish trust is to be transparent about what went wrong, what they're doing right now, and to continue assessing what they're doing going forward,” she said. “With every day, we can do better. But we can't do that when we don't acknowledge what we've done wrong.”

In November, a central Minnesota man was sentenced to more than eight years in prison for stalking and harassing the Robinson family and crashing his vehicle into their Cold Spring home in July 2021.