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'They Just Want To Pretend It Didn't Happen': Farmington High School Accused Of Ignoring Student's Death

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Farmington Area Public Schools is reviewing some of its policies after fallout following the death of a high school student.

Garrett Berg, 17, passed away last June in a cliff jumping accident. But it's what happened after his death that pushed his family to call for change.

Ask Garrett's friends and family and they'll tell you they remember his competitive spirit, love for the outdoors and his smile. But when he tragically died last summer, his family says Farmington High School didn't seem to take notice.

"It was kind of odd to us that we weren't reached out to more, you know, from the school representatives themselves," said Steve Berg, Garrett's father.

The family says no one reached out – not even the principal or superintendent. And student efforts to remember Garrett on school grounds were cleared because of a district policy banning memorials.

"There's a rock in front of the school they painted for him, and it would be immediately painted over," said Lori Berg, Garrett's mother.

"It was just saying, 'Fly high, Garrett. We miss you, we love you,' so that was really sad for us because that was a way to grieve," said Sadie Long, a classmate and friend of Garrett.

"It didn't seem like it was helping the situation, especially when you have kids that are trying to deal with this in their own way," said Steve Berg.

Garrett Berg
Garrett Berg (credit: The Berg Family)

More letdowns came this year. There was no mention of Garrett at what would've been his high school graduation, and he wasn't allowed in the yearbook. A classmate printed slips of paper with his name on it for people to tape in themselves.

"As a mom, I'm not going to let anyone forget that Garrett existed and was a classmate," said Lori Berg. "They wanted to just pretend it didn't happen."

His parents say they would have wanted all of those things for their son, so they're pushing their own district and others to learn from their family's painful experience.

"It was just a failure of the whole process," said Steve Berg. "Be prepared, know what to do and how to reach out, and who to reach out to if something like this happens."

WCCO reached out to the district and school with specific questions about who is supposed to contact family after a student death. We did not get answers to all of our questions, but were sent this statement:

The loss of a child, a friend, and student is always a terrible thing and the grieving process is a unique and personal experience. Our school community was devastated by the loss of Garrett. Despite the COVID-19 protocols that were in place during the summer of 2020 that made gathering together difficult, school counselors reached out to students and families to offer a variety of counseling services both in-person and virtually. The district has had a trauma response plan, developed by counselors and founded in best practices, in place for over six years. There is also a policy and accompanying guidelines which address memorials. We know these plans are not perfect and we are striving to make improvements to better meet the needs of our families.

The Berg family said counselors did not reach out to them after the death of their son.

The school board is reviewing relevant policies and will discuss it again at an upcoming meeting.

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