The Iron County district attorney will not press charges against a Mercer couple who are parents of a special needs student. 

Stormi and Ken Schmidt have a five-and-a-half-year-old son, Lelyn, who was born without eyes, a condition known as bilateral anophthalmia.

Because of that, and a hearing problem he was born with as well, Lelyn requires much in the way of care. 

Over the past few years, there have been a number of fundraisers conducted on behalf of Lelyn by civic organizations such as chapters of the Minocqua, Hazelhurst and Manitowish Waters Lions Club.

Last year, he received prosthetic eyes and hearing implants. 

His mother, Stormi, is originally from Minocqua and said the current problems with the Mercer School District actually began in April 2018, when Schmidt and her husband removed Lelyn’s seven-year-old brother, Aedeyn, from the Mercer School District and enrolled him at North Lakeland School. 

The reason? Bullying. 

“It’s been nonstop backlash from the district & community since we made the decision to transfer Aedeyn to another district,” Schmidt wrote in a Sept. 13 Facebook post she shared on a page titled “Seeing For Lelyn.” “I’ve kept things to myself for our family’s privacy but this is inexcusable.”

She told The Lakeland Times Aedeyn had been crying and never wanted to go to school. 

“It ended up getting to a point where a drastic change had to be made,” Schmidt said. 

She said once Aedeyn began attending North Lakeland, the backlash she wrote about in the Facebook post began immediately. 

“I wasn’t considered ‘all in’ for Mercer school anymore,” Schmidt told The Times. “You’re only considered ‘all in’ if all your children go to Mercer and you, pretty much, abide by and don’t challenge ... you’re pretty much a sheep in the town. That doesn’t work with me.”

She said she’s fought and advocated on Lelyn’s behalf virtually from the day he was born.

“I’ve done my homework on all his needs,” Schmidt said.

Over this past summer, though, she said people began turning their backs on her and her family. 

“People I’ve known my whole life,” Schmidt said. “All of a sudden, they’re deleting me from Facebook, wouldn’t even look at me in town and I was just like, ‘What the heck is going on?’”



The meeting

In that Sept. 13 Facebook post, Schmidt ripped into the district. 

“As of yesterday Lelyn is no longer a student at the great school of Mercer,” she wrote.

That was the day after a meeting the Schmidts had with Mercer School District administrator Eric Torkelson and the district’s special education director, Deb Davis.  

They had received a letter from Davis dated Sep. 6. 

The letter Davis sent dealt with some changes for Lelyn at Mercer school during the 2018-19 school year. 

She wrote she realized Schmidt had become dependent on the aide working with Lelyn on a day to day basis at the school “for many things but it is time to step back.”

“Now it is really hard to find a tactful way to say this but you need to realize that she is a school district staff member and is bound by district policy and answers to the district or myself and not you,” Davis wrote in the Sept. 6 letter. 

She also informed Schmidt in the letter she would be willing to sit down and discuss things with her. 

“As I stated above this is the year for you to start to take a step back and allow Lelyn to participate in school with his same-age peers, doing the same things as they are, as much as possible,” Davis wrote. 

Schmidt claimed Davis was “trying to cut all my communication off while Lelyn was in school.”

“My nonverbal deafblind child ... not happening, so we challenged the letter,” Schmidt wrote. 

The Lakeland Times obtained the audio of that meeting as well as the incident report put together by the Iron County Sheriff’s Office after Torkelson made a 911 call toward the end of that Sept. 12 meeting. 

Monday, Schmidt said she’d been informed that Iron County district attorney Matthew Tingstad, after reviewing the audio and the incident report tied into the Sept. 12 meeting, has no plans to proceed with disorderly conduct charges against the Schmidts.



Services cancelled

Shortly after noon on Sept. 17, Torkelson was contacted by The Lakeland Times regarding the situation. 

Also included in the email were members of the Mercer school board. 

Two hours later, Torkelson responded to the newspaper. 

“Due to the highly confidential nature of the content Mrs. Davis cannot comment on specifics related to the child,” Torkelson wrote. “I can tell you that she has reached out to the family and invited them to discuss the matter further as well as invited their child to return to Mercer School.”

Schmidt was contacted shortly after Torkelson’s response was received by the newspaper and said there hadn’t been, at that point, any contact from Davis. 

The next day, she received a letter from the school district and sent a photo of the envelope it was in. 

It was postmarked Sept. 17.

The letter, signed by Davis, mentioned the Sept. 12 meeting. 

“In response to your comments that you will be taking your son out of the school district of Mercer at our meeting ... your son’s special education services have been cancelled for the next week,” Davis wrote. “If you change your mind and you will want him to continue to attend the School District of Mercer, there will have to be another meeting.”

That meeting was to have taken place Wednesday, Sept. 19, but Schmidt said there wouldn’t be a meeting without the family’s lawyer, Dan Snyder of Park Falls, present. 

“The way it was dated and sent ... it would be virtually impossible,” she said. “I was told they (the district) can not stipulate a date requesting a meeting.”



No comment from Davis

Mercer School Board member Christa Reinert responded Tuesday to the Sept. 17 email originally sent to Torkelson and the school board by The Lakeland Times.

“After reading the police report, listening to the audio recorded at the meeting Sept. 12 and reading both the original letter sent to the family from Deb Davis Sept. 6 and the certified letter Ms. Davis also sent to the family regarding this student, I am truly distraught how Ms. Davis and Erik Torkelson have conducted themselves in this matter,” she wrote.

Reinert said the entire school board received correspondence from Schmidt’s attorney, a letter she said “concerns me greatly with respect to the Mercer school district and the possible liability these school officials have created in conducting themselves in this way, with a very sensitive matter. “

“I have communicated with the family and I wish them all the best,” Reinert wrote. “Their child and family will be missed greatly at Mercer School.”

Schmidt said Monday Torkelson was continuing to pressure Tingstad to press disorderly conduct charges against her and her husband, but Tingstad said Wednesday he was not going to pursue charges.

Davis, in an email to The Lakeland Times Tuesday, said there would be no comment at this time because of the “latest in a list of threats made by the parents,” threats Schmidt denies ever making. 

“There was no threat made to her at all,” she said Tuesday. 

Schmidt said she’s consulted with Snyder about filing an open records request to get copies of the reports of threats Davis referred to.

“I have not talked to Deb, I haven’t talked to the school,” she said. “I’ve talked to our lawyer, the district attorney and the Iron County Sheriff’s Department. I don’t know where this stuff is coming from.”

In the meantime, the Schmidts have submitted an open enrollment application to get Lelyn enrolled at North Lakeland School, are essentially waiting for all the paperwork to go through and Stormi has also submitted a letter to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction regarding non-compliance with Lelyn’s Individualized Education Plan.

What it boils down to for Stormi Schmidt is the words Deb Davis used in her Sep. 6 letter to her.

“To be told to take a step back from making decisions for him ... absolutely not,” she said. “That’s never gonna happen. You’re your child’s number one advocate. Don’t let anyone stand in the way between you and your child.”

Brian Jopek may be reached via email at bjopek@lakelandtimes.com