WAKEMAN — Three days after Sheffield Middle School student Parti Holland II committed suicide, relatives say the school attendance office called Parti’s parents to say he was not in class.
“Tell me that a school system that can call on a deceased child and can’t keep that straight, can keep anything else straight,” said Jeanie Workman, Parti Holland’s aunt. “And they called more than once.”
In their first public comments since their son’s March 23 hanging in his Sheffield Lake home, Jacqueline and Parti Holland on Sunday expressed grief and frustration. Grief over the loss of a 14-year-old boy described as a “gentle giant” by friends and relatives. Frustration over his death, which they say could’ve been avoided had Sheffield Schools strictly enforced its anti-bullying policies.
Parti’s size — 6-foot-3 and 275 pounds with size 18 feet — easygoing nature, a speech impediment and being black in a mostly white school district made him a target, the Hollands said. He entered Sheffield in 2009 to escape bullying in Lorain Schools, but it continued and intensified in what would be the last couple months of his life.
“He told me he went to the principal, he talked to the teachers (and) I went in there and talked to the principal and talked to the teachers and they said, ‘I didn’t know anything about it,’ ” the elder Holland said. “They didn’t take it as seriously as it really was.”
Because they were concerned Parti might hurt someone if he hit them, the Hollands said they had always told him not to fight. Fighting didn’t fit his personality. Parti — pronounced Par-tay — liked to build and repair things, not break them.
Relatives wiped away tears as they sat around the living room table in the Wakeman home of Jeanie Workman and Gerald Workman, her husband. The Hollands and their 16-year-old daughter, Hailey Holland, immediately moved in with the Workmans after Parti’s death because living in the Knickerbocker Road home where he committed suicide would’ve been too painful.
They recalled Parti’s love of repairing BMX bicycles. He and a friend landscaped in the spring and summer and shoveled snow in the winter to raise money to buy, repair and sell bikes. “He loved taking things apart and trying to put them back together,” Hailey Holland said.
They said Parti liked to help out when he wasn’t fixing things or riding bikes. When Gerald Workman had back surgery, Parti chopped firewood all winter.
While they had cautioned against violence, Parti’s relatives said they told him to defend himself when the bullying intensified. They said a white boy, far smaller than Parti, had been bullying him on the school bus for about two months, including using racial slurs.
On March 18, Parti Holland said he met with then-assistant principal Angela Terella to discuss his son being bullied. Holland said Terella — since promoted to principal — wanted to talk about Parti’s academic progress and said she was unaware of him being bullied.
Terella in a Sunday email directed all comments to Superintendent Will Folger. Folger didn’t return calls.
On March 21, Parti was suspended for three days for punching the boy on the bus. They said the boy was suspended for 10 days because he was the instigator. Hailey Holland, who was on the bus, said the boy called Parti a n—-r and hit him in the face before Parti started punching him. “As soon as the bus driver told him to stop, he stopped and walked away,” she said.
Two days later, on his 14th birthday, Parti was found hanging in his bedroom. The Hollands said that although he had been bothered by the bullying, he gave no sign of being suicidal, and no suicide note was left.
Parti Holland said an ankle injury — because of growth spurts — had sidelined Parti from playing football. The ankle had improved, and Parti was looking forward to playing high school football. Parti had also spoken of where he might attend college and for the most part, had been his usual upbeat self.
“We were just all blindsided,” Holland said. “He was just trying to be with the other kids and trying to fit in. It didn’t work out that way.”
Folger hasn’t publicly acknowledged whether Parti was bullied. He told Board of Education members last week that the school district had acted properly but said, “we’re always looking for ways to improve.”
Folger said in a June 19 news release that Chronicle-Telegram stories about the complaints prompted an internal investigation and one by Sheffield police. The internal investigation was done by Gary Friedt, district director of pupil services. Capt. Bill Visalden conducted the external investigation.
Visalden said he interviewed three people at the school and called the investigation “very uneventful.” He said no criminal complaint was filed and the school district requested the investigation. Visalden wouldn’t release the investigation report, saying parts of it might need to be censored because it concerns a juvenile. No wrongdoing by Sheffield Middle School staff was found.
Folger previously said the district and the middle school have multiple anti-bullying procedures, but Hailey Holland — who has transferred to Firelands Schools — said when she attended the school, all she heard about bullying was a 10-minute presentation at the start of the school year. The Hollands said they have no intention of suing the district over their son’s death, but they hope the staff takes bullying more seriously.
Folger also said a website, on which parents and students can anonymously make complaints about bullying, is being established. Members approved spending up $50,000 to hire a company to provide anti-bullying strategies.
“I’m not trying to attack anyone,” Parti Holland said. “They don’t have to do anything for me except to take care of the future of their kids.”
- A spaghetti dinner to help the family of Parti Holland II with the costs of his funeral is 1 to 4 p.m. July 21 at Amherst Eagles, 1161 Milan Ave., Amherst. The dinner will include a 50/50 raffle.
- Donations also can be made at any Chase Bank branch.
Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.