Student-athletes from Flathead High School in Kalispell have been disciplined for engaging in “inappropriate conduct” during a AA coaches’ football camp in Billings this summer.
Kalispell School Superintendent Darlene Schottle said she could not identify any of the students involved or describe “the nature of the inappropriate conduct,” but she did confirm that an incident took place during the three-day camp in June. The victim of the hazing incident was an athlete from Flathead High, as were the six boys who took part in or were aware of the hazing, she said.
The football camp is not sponsored by Billings School District 2. It is jointly put on by AA coaches from across the state. This year, 10 of the 14 AA schools in Montana, including Billings’ three public high schools, sent student-athletes to the camp.
Training takes place at Daylis Stadium and out-of-town athletes stay in dormitories and eat meals in the cafeteria at Montana State University Billings.
In an e-mail to the The Gazette, Schottle said “no criminal proceedings were initiated,” but Kalispell Public Schools staff members, assisted by local juvenile justice officials and the school resource officer at Flathead High, dealt with the incident.
She said the students performed some community service and were prohibited from serving as captains or in any other leadership related to student activities “during this season.”
“Although unfortunate and not appropriate, the incident has provided KPS staff with an opportunity to reinforce our already-existing zero tolerance policy for harassment and hazing among staff, students and parents,” Schottle said.
She also said high school staff facilitated a meeting between the parents and student-athletes involved, and separate meetings were held with the victim and his parents.
“It is our understanding that this matter has been resolved to the general satisfaction of all of the students and parents involved,” Schottle said.
Billings Skyview football coach Ron Lebsock, who helped organize the camp, said that as far as he knew, nobody in Billings was informed of any incident involving Flathead High School.
“If it was a big thing, I’m sure we all would have heard about it,” he said.
Lebsock said Billings coaches only play host to the camp, and each team is responsible for the behavior of its players and coaches.
At Skyview, Lebsock said, everyone “top to bottom” knows that hazing isn’t tolerated.
“We’re here to help each other, not to make anybody feel uncomfortable,” he said.
Schottle said Kalispell Public Schools have been using back-to-school communication channels to encourage parents and students to report any form of inappropriate conduct.
In a phone interview, Schottle said football coach Russell McCarvel tried to call the district’s activities director as soon as he learned of the hazing but could not reach him. If it had been during the school year and authorities could have been reached easily, Schottle said, the offending athletes might have been sent home immediately.
As it was, the coach ordered them to run some laps and told them the situation would be dealt with when they returned to Kalispell. Schottle said McCarvel also spoke with the victim and his parents and all of them agreed it wasn’t necessary to involve the police in Billings.
When the team returned home, however, the district did call the local police. Schottle said the school resource officer for Kalispell High determined that the hazing wasn’t serious enough to warrant criminal charges.
Schottle said the six students were given a choice between being suspended from the football team or going through the Restorative Youth Justice program. They all chose to go through the program and were required to perform community service.
Schottle said the hours served varied depending on the degree of involvement in each case.
Commenting on the district’s “zero-tolerance” policy, Schottle said, “that was a tough one to apply in this case.” If a student brings a gun to school or comes to school drunk, the infraction is clear and punishment easier to apply, she said.
But with hazing, she said, there are so many degrees and so many different kinds that it is difficult to settle on appropriate punishment. In communicating district policy on hazing, she said, teachers and staff members have told students “zero tolerance” means there will be consequences.
Schottle said the Kalispell school board was notified of the incident and the response to it but was not otherwise involved. Because it wasn’t officially a district event, Schottle said, the board’s full involvement was not considered necessary.
Likewise, the Montana High School Association was notified but played no role in dealing with the incident, she said.