Bullying and harassment on Bozeman High School’s freshman football team appears to have been resolved, after a letter to parents and the threat of canceling games prompted more cooperation from students, Superintendent Rob Watson said Thursday.
“We take it seriously,” Watson said, noting that combatting bullying is one of the Bozeman School District’s top five goals for this school year. “We want to be sure our students feel safe.”
Watson said there had been ongoing harassment and bullying between freshman players on the team, which has about 45 members. Though high school officials investigated and talked to several players, the students wouldn’t identify who was doing the bullying and it didn’t stop.
In fact, on Oct. 10, the same day a new bullying-prevention program happened to be introduced in every Bozeman High homeroom, “the bullying situation was further exacerbated,” Principal Ken Gibson and Activities Director Randy Russell wrote in a letter to parents, sent the next day.
Their letter asked parents for support and help to end the bullying, and said the following Saturday’s game would be canceled and future games would be canceled if the individual or group of students responsible didn’t come forward by noon Friday.
Friday, Watson said, more students on the team and the individuals involved were cooperating, so no games were canceled.
He declined to be specific about the bullying, saying only that it included harassment and name-calling and apparently had been going on for years.
Asked if the bullying was as serious as a 2011 hazing incident in Kalispell that included sexual assault, Watson said no, he hadn’t heard of any assaults. News reports said that six freshmen football players from Glacier High sexually molested several students on a team bus, which resulted in six student suspensions, the coach’s resignation, criminal charges against three players and lawsuits against the school.
The entire 5,996-student Bozeman School District is implementing the Olweus Bully Prevention Program this year. In his weekly Friday letter, Watson called it “the most researched and best-known” anti-bullying program available, with 35 years of research and success.
The Olweus program asks all students to “stand up to bullying” and not be passive bystanders when they see others being harassed. It also asks students to include those who are often left out and to tell adults at school or at home if they see someone being bullied. The training includes students, teachers, aides, cooks and custodians, so that everyone at school feels “empowered” to stop bullying.
Gail Schontzler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 582-2633.