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The Battle Against Bullying
Montana one of four states without anti-bullying law
Students at Elrod Elementary gathered last week for an assembly to recognize "heroes" in the school who help prevent bullying. - Photo courtesy of Sharon Sinclair
A recent incident involving a group of freshman boys at Glacier High School has evolved into a criminal case in Youth Court and yet again returned the spotlight on bullying in schools.

Montana is one of only four states that does not have a statewide law combating bullying. Instead, individual school districts are responsible for implementing rules, guidelines and programs to protect students.

Billings Sen. Kim Gillan led the charge for an anti-bullying bill in the 2011 legislative session that would have added a clear state law, but the bill fell short. Gillan still stands by the merits of the failed law.

“I’m a mother. I raise two children. My children fortunately were not bullied,” she said. “But bullying has become a serious issue. I just think it’s an issue that needed to be addressed. Even though the bill didn’t succeed, at least hopefully it raised the awareness.”

Glacier High resource officer Jason Parce, who conducted the police department’s investigation of the Glacier incident, said the problem plagues high schools on a regular basis.

“It’s hard to say (how many incidents we deal with), but I can tell you that we deal with cyberbullying and bullying in school on a weekly basis on a variety of different levels,” Parce said.

Cyberbullying, through text messages and online, has become the most common form of bullying, Parce said.

Earlier this fall, both Glacier and Flathead High School had incidents that involved Facebook pages where students were airing out school drama and slandering students in a public forum. After parents alerted school administrators, the sites were taken down.

“Although we don’t have a state bullying law, there are school policies and some statutes in the subsections (of the law) that do cover the type of activity that occurs in bullying and cyberbullying,” Parce said.

At last week’s school board meeting, school district members and administrators spent three hours deliberating whether a freshman at Glacier should be expelled after an incident took place on a school bus last month. The Kalispell School Board voted to temporarily expel the freshman, who is being charged with misdemeanor sexual assault. He is eligible to return to school on Oct. 31, the first day of the second quarter.

During the deliberation, a crowd that included parents, lawyers and media waited for the decision outside in the hallway.

One of the parents was Alan Anderson, who is going to school to become a teacher.

“I know (bullying is) an issue out there. What drives me nuts is these kids are growing up in this era of information where they can see the Columbines, the other harassments, the suicides from kids being bullied. The access to this information is out there and everyone is seeing it,” he said. “It’s nuts to me that that’s exactly what’s happening and they’re still not doing anything to stop it.”

Across the hallway, another parent said she thinks the problem needs to be handled and disciplined at home.

“I think bullying by most people is taken seriously,” Kathy Kusler said. “It starts with the parents at home, and I think most of all of us are conscientious parents and teach our kids the golden rule, to treat others the way we want to be treated. As a community we need to come together and have that same mentality.”

At the younger grades, students regularly participate in the Olweus Bullying Prevention program, which was established six years ago. Just last week, students at Elrod Elementary took part in an assembly that recognized “the great defenders,” who stand up against bullying.

Alison Schmaltz, the school district’s coordinator for the Olweus programs, said students are taught bully prevention guidelines, how to stand up for themselves in a positive way and how to be a “hero” for others.

“When you teach your children when they’re young the way they need to behave and the good positive choices they can gain that are life skills, we become stronger as a community,” she said.

“These children will grow up believing that doing something is way better than standing back and not doing anything.”

Brenda High has been one of the most prominent and vocal proponents of anti-bullying in the nation. She has written several books on bullying and had a hand in more than a dozen states adopting anti-bullying laws. Her motivation is simple and unwavering. Her son Jared committed suicide in 1998 at the age of 13 after a bullying incident in Pasco, Wash. His story can be found at www.jaredstory.com, where his mother has provided a comprehensive collection of research, resources and information about bullying and how to prevent it.

“I try to educate people about being aware of something that might change a life,” she said. “You get a person like Jared who was fun loving and outgoing and was raised in a peaceful family, and then he has an experience. Well, what would it do to somebody who never experienced that violence before?”

High believes in the coming year most states will adopt stricter measures to combat bullying and cyberbullying, although she worries that Montana might be behind in recognizing the need for more protection and awareness. Nevertheless, she said she will continue fighting this battle for the rest of her life.

“I have really found this to be my purpose in life,” she said.

“I’m a religious person and I think I’m keeping Jared busy up there. He’s helping the other kids who need help.”
On 10-18-11, bocephusj57 commented....
Parents that are homophobes.  Dads who think sexual violence is a sign of masculinity.  Glibertarians who think that !!FREEDOM!! means making up your own rules.
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