Bullying reports continue at Montana schools, despite antibullying laws


    Accounts of bullying in Montana schools are shocking.

    Cari Rosenbaum lives in Lake County and has moved her son to a different district after he reported repeated bullying.

    "He had his hands and head slammed in lockers. He was peed on in the locker room. A kid would stab him with a sharpened pencil the entire class. The final thing where we said we can't do this anymore was, he was depantsed out at recess. Everything came off in front of boys, in front of girls. After the depantsing issue, he was even cornered in the locker room and threatened to keep his mouth shut," said Rosenbaum.

    Rosenbaum interview

    Benita Chuey is now homeschooling her son after reports of bullying in Flathead County.

    "A guy on the bus grabbed him and shoved a bar of deodorant in his mouth. He got off the bus. He was crying and had deodorant stuck in his teeth. He would physically pick him up, off the stool at lunch, and move him, and say, 'You are not allowed to sit with my friends.' These kids have sent death threats to my son. Just this year, they had a friend try to hang himself, which was a big deal around school. It was because he was being bullied for being poor," said Chuey.

    Kaye Robinson, in Missoula, says her daughter was traumatized when a bully would not let her into the bathroom.

    "She was targeted by an older girl in the school. As she made her way to the bathroom, this girl would stand in the doorway and prevent her from using the facilities. She was afraid to tell us because this girl had threatened to harm her if she told anyone," said Robinson.

    One report from eastern Montana indicates a bully urinated into a fellow student's shampoo bottle. Another report indicates a bully burned a fellow student's hair.

    Reports indicate a couple in Livingston sued the school district after their son completed suicide after repeated bullying,

    Bikers Against Bullies cite Centers for Disease Control statistics suggesting that bullying victims are up to nine times more likely than others to consider suicide.

    "Almost 15 kids a day die as a direct result of bullying in America," said Fred Van de Perre.

    Educators tell NBC Montana bullying still concerns a lot of Montanans, even after Montana became the last state in the union, three years ago, to enact statewide antibullying laws.

    "Montana law makes it illegal to harass or bully someone for absolutely any reason, regardless on what the treatment is based," said Sentinel High School Principal Ted Fuller.

    "It ensures each individual district sets and follows its own policies to prevent and respond to bullying," said Dylan Klapmeier, with the Montana Office of Public Instruction.

    Still, many say Montana's laws are too weak, only requiring individual districts to set and follow their own bullying prevention and correctional procedures.

    "I think our school system is failing our kids. Our schools aren't safe," said Chuey.

    We reached out to the schools the parents voiced concerns about. Administrators told us they investigate each bullying incident and respond individually, with possible responses in their individual districts ranging from separation to expulsion.

    Montana's law defines bullying as repeated events involving and imbalance of power.

    "Parents and kids will think it's bullying when it's one isolated incident, but it's supposed to be repeated incidents where there is an imbalance of power. So it's a group of kids or a kid who is a lot bigger than another child,' said Hellgate Elementary counselor Catie Dennehy.

    We asked the principal at Sentinel High School for perspective. Fuller believes Montana could cut down on bullying reports by setting unified correctional and restorative language in its law.

    "Schools that have gone away from a zero-tolerance exclusionary model, where kids who misbehave just get excluded, and pivot it more to a restorative justice approach, I've seen really promising results with that. When kids start speaking out against harassment and bullying, when kids start standing up for victims, that's when you start to get to a tipping point that can really change culture," said Fuller.

    Montana doesn't mandate what prevention programs a school has to adopt, but the Hellgate Elementary District in Missoula uses one of the most widely researched programs, called Olweus.

    "We really want the kids to learn that they can make a difference, not just by telling but by being kind or standing up for somebody that's not being treated fairly. We really try to take a second approach, to have this school district be a place where kids feel safe, where they feel they are part of a community," said Hellgate Elementary Olweus director Jonna Brandt.

    "It says if you see anyone being bullied, or you are being bullied, tell an adult at school and an adult at home," said foster grandparent Nancy Elkins.

    Hellgate district parent Angie Binns says the prevention program is helping children, including her son, be more understanding of others.

    "As a person, he is very knowledgeable about other people and receptive of maybe this person is not being as welcomed as another person," said Binns.

    Montana school classroom

    However, parents in other parts of Montana aren't so optimistic. They have been turned to homeschooling or driving their children to other districts.

    The Montana Office of Public Instruction says if parents aren't satisfied with a school's response to bullying reports, they can then go to a district superintendent and the school board, which holds public meetings. The state also encourages you to contact police for physical threats and attacks and says you can call the Montana Office of Public Instruction in Helena at any point in dealing with a bullying problem.

    The office tells NBC Montana no new proposals are currently on the table to further refine Montana's antibullying laws.

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