Kaitlyn Artrip

Kaitlyn Artrip, 14, died last month.

After a Crystal City eighth-grader died of cancer last month, some of her family and friends felt the district didn’t properly recognize her and wrote messages in chalk in front of the high school to memorialize her, resulting in a dispute between them and school administration.

Kaitlyn Artrip, 14, died of rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of childhood cancer, on April 27.

Her mother, Lindsey Patton, said the Crystal City School District – in particular Superintendent Matt Holdinghausen – failed to properly acknowledge her daughter’s death at an eighth-grade graduation ceremony held May 18 at the building that houses the district’s junior high and high school, 1100 Mississippi Ave.

Patton said she attended the ceremony to see Kaitlyn’s cousins and friends graduate, and she expected some gesture, like a moment of silence, at the ceremony, but that didn’t happen.

“(Kaitlyn) fought through chemo. She did her schooling online. She tried to keep up as much as she could,” Patton said. “There was nothing to address she had ever existed there. There was no mention of Kaitlyn. They failed to say she was ever here. That was hurtful to me.”

Patton said after stewing about it, she and some of Kaitlyn’s other family members and friends decided to go to the high school and write messages to remember Kaitlyn in chalk on the concrete.

“We said, ‘Why don’t we grab some balloons and chalk and write messages like, ‘We love you,’” Patton said. “It was about 9 p.m. Someone contacted the superintendent.”

She said Holdinghausen confronted the group of about 10 adults and students, telling them they did not have permission to write the messages on the school grounds.

“We felt like we were expressing ourselves in a positive way,” Patton said. “I was told it was inappropriate and it would bother the children coming to school the next day. They were going to have a kindergarten graduation there the next day. Kindergartners can’t even read!”

She said Holdinghausen called police, and her group left after police arrived. At some point, school personnel washed off the chalk messages.

The next day some students who heard about the controversy left the building as a protest and began writing more messages in front of the school.

In a student’s video of the incident that Patton posted on her Facebook page, Holdinghausen is heard telling the students they were being insubordinate and if they did not go back inside the school, they would be suspended.

Patton said she feels Holdinghausen acted surprisingly harshly toward the students, who were grieving the loss of their friend.

“The superintendent scolded the children and said they were suspended and their parents needed to pick them up,” Patton said. “You can’t stop them from grieving when you did nothing to acknowledge Kaitlyn.”

The Crystal City Police Department got a call about the incidents, and officers showed up at the school to keep the peace, but no one was arrested, Chief Chad Helms said.

“On May 18, about 11 p.m. or just a little before, the (school district) person who’d responded to the school reported that 10 or 12 people – students and adults – were chalking messages on the ground about a student who just passed away due to a serious illness. An administrator felt it would not be appropriate on the next day when there was to be a kindergarten graduation at the school. He had asked the people to stop. We talked to everybody involved and there seemed to be a peaceful resolution.”

Helms said his department got a call the next day from the district about a related incident at Crystal City High School.

“On May 19, we were called about 2:20 p.m. in reference to some high school students doing some kind of protest,” he said. “The incident was handled by the administration. We were there to keep the peace.”

Holdinghausen declined to comment about the dispute, but submitted the following written statement.

“Recently, one of the families in the community lost their child. Our students and staff have lost a friend and a caring individual who will never be forgotten. The loss of a child is always a tragedy and can never be measured and our thoughts and prayers are with the family. Our school community retains counselors on staff to be of assistance to any student that would like to talk and grieve. Our teachers and staff are also here to support all those that are hurting because of the loss of their friend. May our community be encouraged to support each other and the family during this time.”

Patton said after representatives from Meraki Tattoo & Piercing and Vivian James American Beauty and other local businesses heard about the flap, they invited people to write condolences in chalk on the sidewalk in front of their shops, which she appreciated.

She said she intends to go before the Crystal City Board of Education to complain about Holdinghausen.

“He’s a leader of the school,” Patton said. “I want an apology, for one. I’m going to the school board. I’m going to have as many people go with me as I can. You don’t treat people this way.”

Patton praised Kaitlyn’s teachers and emphasized that she only had complaints against Holdinghausen.