Bemidji School District sued for negligence, other charges, in handling Bjerknes case

Two victims of a former Bemidji Middle School assistant principal are suing the school district.

The Bemidji School District, named as the defendant in court documents, is accused of discrimination in violation of Title IX for not addressing the hostile environment the victims were subjected to; failing to supervise and train staff, which violated the victims’ constitutional and federal rights as students, negligence, negligent supervision and negligent retention.

The complaint also says the district turned a blind eye to Brandon Bjerknes’s conduct, despite numerous complaints; continued to use a T-shirt business for school spirit wear owned by Bjerknes despite objections; and the victims were penalized for truancy for experiencing severe absenteeism and tardiness after the Bjerknes crimes were made public.

Bjerknes was imprisoned in 2018 after pleading guilty to exploiting minors who attended Bemidji Middle School. After his federal conviction of distributing child pornography, he is serving time in a federal prison in Milan, Mich. with an anticipated release date in 2039. 

Brandon Bjerknes. Photo courtesy of the Beltrami County Jail.

He used an alias named “Brett Larson” and exchanged sexually graphic materials with students.

In the civil suit, the plaintiffs say they are “outraged by the Defendant’s complete failure to take any steps to address how this happened, why this happened and the Defendant’s lack of initiative to determine how they were going to prevent this from happening again.”

The plaintiffs are suing for compensatory damage, relief available under Title IX, punitive damages, and a permanent injunction that directs the district to comply with federal and state law, as well as other items.

Larissa Donovan is the News Director for the stations of Paul Bunyan Broadcasting and has been, almost without interruption, since Election Day 2016. She covers all the beats in north-central Minnesota, such as local government, crime, education, environment and social issues. She studied communications at Bemidji State University. You can follow along with Larissa's live tweets of meetings and events on Twitter!

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