Montana schools step in after anti-bullying bills fail in Legislature

2013-06-09T09:30:00Z 2013-06-10T11:46:03Z Montana schools step in after anti-bullying bills fail in LegislatureThe Associated Press The Associated Press
June 09, 2013 9:30 am  • 

HELENA — A middle school classmate promised to make Jill Sharp's life a living hell after the talented athlete won a coveted spot on a dance team in Sidney.

Sharp thought it was an empty threat, made out of jealousy. But then the girl attacked Sharp's dancing ability and tarnished her reputation using social media sites such as MSN Messenger, Myspace, Facebook and Twitter.

Sharp, now 20, told her story this year before the Montana House Judiciary Committee as it was considering an anti-bullying bill. She described how the taunting messages continued to appear through middle school and high school.

"But I was always taught that I would be the bigger person," Sharp said in a recent interview. "I just hoped this person would grow out of it."

She finally went to her high school principal with a thick file documenting the posts and messages. The principal recommended she take legal action, but that proved to be a dead end.

"Montana doesn't have any legislation against bullying in general, and no law saying that you have to be a good person," said Sharp, who recalled that police told her that her adversary could say whatever she wanted to online.

Montana is the only state in the nation without laws against bullying and cyberbullying, according the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. But even with the nationwide push against bullying in recent years, it's not clear whether such laws actually work.

There is anecdotal evidence that anti-bullying legislation can be a deterrent, but the laws are too new to determine whether they have reduced bullying, said Ingrid Denato, director of anti-bullying programs at the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

In Montana, 23 percent of high school students and 38 percent of middle school students reported being bullied at school, according to a survey released in 2011 by the Montana Office of Public Instruction. Eighteen percent of both groups had been bullied online. A new survey will be released this summer.

Educators and policymakers take the issue seriously. Denato said both bullies and the bullied can have higher incidences of depression, anxiety and substance abuse. That's of special concern in Montana, where suicide rates rank high for both adults and youth. According to the American Association of Suicidology, Montana is fifth-highest nationally for suicide among those 15 to 24. Considering all age groups, Montana is No. 3.

"When I was a kid bullying was writing 'slut' or 'b----' on the bathroom wall," said state Rep. Ellie Hill, D-Missoula. "Now you write it on Facebook or a blog or the Internet, and it follows you your whole life."

Hill tried to pass the state's first anti-bullying measures in the recently ended legislative session. Both House Bill 527, which would have made cyberbullying its own offense, and House Bill 528, which would have made threatening or harassing electronic messages a stalking offense, failed to reach a floor vote.

Rep. Jerry Bennett voted against both measures in the House Judiciary Committee. The Libby Republican said he was bullied in high school because of his short stature, but he coped. Parents should use common sense and unplug their children's mobile devices to help them avoid ridicule, he said.

"Each school should be able to define what their needs are," Bennett said. "I think bullying is an issue that can easily be controlled at the local level without state intervention."

Lacking legislation, the Board of Public Instruction has added anti-bullying guidelines that each school must follow to remain accredited. For example, school districts are required to develop their own methods for documenting bullying, protecting the victim and disciplining the bully.

"I think that younger generations have a better understanding of cyberbullying issues because we are living in it," said Sharp, now a senior at the University of Montana.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(28) Comments

  1. PI
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    PI - June 11, 2013 6:28 am
    Good for Jill Sharp for her efforts to change the bullying laws. I looked it up. Cyber-bullying and harassment prevention was her platform when she was in the Miss MT Scholarship Program in 2010. She is still trying to make life better for others being bullied.
  2. billmillerjr
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    billmillerjr - June 11, 2013 4:33 am
    bullying victims all have wimpy, harvey milk toast ,parents----woe would be unto a bully if the bullies tried to bully my kids----True story
  3. Howard Wilkinson
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    Howard Wilkinson - June 10, 2013 10:03 pm
    Having been a victim of bullying in elementary school myself, I know from personal experience the rage that builds up as a result. I reacted to my tormenters at times with violence when pushed beyond my ability to tolerate their behavior. At that age you don't have the tools to deal with this sort of abuse, and the potential for murderous violence as we saw at Columbine is very real. With maturity we grow out of this, and develop a confidence and self assurance that allows us to withstand these abuses(presumably), and our tormenters presumably become "socialized". Unfortunately parents and other adults cannot really shield children from this no matter how hard they try. Only peer pressure can alleviate this problem. Those few individuals who as children are able to reach out and support others, and make the abusers feel ashamed of their behavior. All the laws in the world are NOT going to help. It takes peers who have courage and confidence and who care..........
  4. windy
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    windy - June 10, 2013 9:28 pm
    School officials have a responsibility from the time your children leaves the family home until they return in the late afternoon. SRO's are already paid by the school system and they already spend a lot of hours on these groups of troubled youth. The expense of letting it go on is higher in dollar cost then to allow the parents a legal law to curtail the abuse from getting out of hand. It is simply saying, you keep a bad attitude and inflict pain on others then you will be held accountable. If your parents cannot then the civil society will make sure you will not go out and beat up on your neighbors. The bully needs help. That is the problem, Once you get this one person help then others will comply. In gangs it is common once they reach majority age they are kicked out of the gangs because they will now be held accountable. Contact the COP shop and ask them about Jim Bringlesons steps in criminal behavior.
  5. windy
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    windy - June 10, 2013 9:23 pm
    I agree to disagree. She did bully a lot of girls. Kids will band together and fight back yet, many are just watching and if it gets too hot they just walk away. One girl was spoiled, she held her head high and many of the bullies felt that she was too high and mighty. She was having a rough time with her family, her father kicked her out of the house and she went through this without help from parents. She lived in her car and on friends beds from Sept to March. That is when she was given a benefactor and someone who would advocate for her. She was given the choice to go to court and use the legal system or just remain silent and hope it goes away. It doesn't go away. The girl that bullied needs help. I did listen to both sides. I worked hard to get this girl help and when she dropped out of school. I contacted all the principals and the superintendent and said someone needs to sit down with her and find healthy channels. Not one school official took the time to help the bully.
  6. flinkpamingo
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    flinkpamingo - June 10, 2013 3:54 pm
    I know for a fact that the one who is saying she was bullied, was, in fact, bullying others and they decided to fight back. We also had two girls a few years previous who were just awful to everyone. The kids got tired of it and gave it right back. They got tired of getting pushed around and belittled. Those two girls couldn't understand why they had no friends and no one liked them. So, they transferred to Savage because they were being "bullied". Some of those who scream loudest are the ones who are just reaping what they sow. The teachers use the two girls as an example during the talks on bullying at the beginning of the school year. No one feels sorry for them. Still. I'm not saying that all cases are like this. But sometimes instead of just getting one side, you ought to do a little checking. Things aren't always what they seem. So everyone can feel sorry for her, but she brought it on herself by doing it to others. My daughter's friend was one of the girls she bullied.
  7. Banksy
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    Banksy - June 10, 2013 1:03 pm
    I think bully's need to watch Billy Madison or think about Columbine.
  8. greganwortman
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    greganwortman - June 10, 2013 11:04 am
    My initial question is: what the hell is Steve Bullock's problem? This bill was not the only good thing that Bullock stopped with his veto rampage. I did not vote for Bullock and I considered
    him a VERY poor choice for governor considering the corruption in law enforcement departments here in Montana and as Attorney General he was the top rotten banana on a pile of really creepy fruit.
  9. Jus Wundrin
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    Jus Wundrin - June 10, 2013 10:09 am
    Our society has turned away from God abe.
  10. Jus Wundrin
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    Jus Wundrin - June 10, 2013 9:42 am
    No offense ricci. I know how your daughter felt, and would love to hear about your ordeal. I could tell you just two words and you would understand the torment that I incurred for many years of my life. I just realize that people, by human nature, can be very cruel. I just did what Jerry Bennett did. I abhor bullying and cliques, and think that the kids engage in these activities should be removed from school. Unfortunately it is usually the victimized family that ends up leaving.

    We need to pray for those who do us harm.

    My issue is with policies, legislation, and regulations about bullying. They are only as good as the paper they are printed on, and only have the effect of telling parents that they are "trying" to do something, but are rarely enforced. I am also concerned about what the definition of what bullying is, as it could be used to silence critics.

  11. twoteneleven
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    twoteneleven - June 10, 2013 9:33 am
    This is a problem for parents not for government. Keep the government snoops, including the educational system, in their place and out of the lives of children and families. Promote private schools and home schooling. These options are much better for children except they are constantly bullied by the government school system and their union and political lackies.
  12. Abraham
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    Abraham - June 10, 2013 8:13 am
    It used to be that bullying was on the order of Farcus in Christmas Story, one individual and one on one. No adays it is like a group effort, once blood is smelled it is like a bunch of sharks circling for the kill. What has become of our society.
  13. windy
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    windy - June 10, 2013 7:45 am
    In my case the parents were not contacted by school officials. The bully was no longer living with her mother. The idea behind giving teeth against bullys is to give parents the legal frame work to deal with them in court. If we could have knocked the 12 direct link of girls out then many others would not have been bullied. They were going from group to group and the kids learn fast not to tell their parents. They don't have the skills to be healthy normal adults. There is too much anger aggression and lack of respect to authority figures. These kids all have records most minor, this is the first sign. Historically propaganda has been used to bring mind sets in war time. It was used recently in Afganastan and in Iraq. It was also used in Palestine to bring people to lay down arms. This is a war of children on the streets, young adults without coping skills. These two girls did stand up against the verbal attacks, they stood up against the physical beating at metra park with police.
  14. bersuchb
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    bersuchb - June 10, 2013 7:13 am
    So, who is going to be hired to monitor this? Is every school going to have a bullying cop? Does this mean the school will need more resources, for the children? I.e. tax dollars, to hire more "necessary" employees. I was bullied in school, but a piece of paper from the legislature would have done nothing to stop it. Hill, go get some counseling or whatever it takes, and move on with your life. You seem plenty old, grow up. What is in the water in Missoula? First you have Mr. Whitebeard, kissing the hand of Schweitzer and now this. Come on Missoula, take the sucky out of your mouth and get a life.
  15. windy
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    windy - June 10, 2013 7:11 am
    The girl that quit school OD on alcohol. She left her family home and is living with a cousin. She quit school, quit her part time job and started night school. Chances are she will not complete schooling. She is currently eligible for welfare. in 7-8 years her situational poverty will turn to generational poverty. If she continues on this course she will have multiple sex partners, have about 3 kids and will not be equipped with the skills to raise these kids. The state will pay for her and in the long return we as a society will pay for not getting this girl the help she needed to be a normal citizen to society. Her bullying hasn't stopped her way of thinking. Who ever she stands beside will be brought down by her continued negative actions. It is a ripple effect.
  16. windy
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    windy - June 10, 2013 6:56 am
    The individual who bullied signed the contract. The school came down on her. She quit school. She spent the remainder of her year 8 weeks partying. Most of these bully's have high self esteem. Many come from high end families. They are not all low income broken homes. That is a fallacy. We are just as guilty as those kids that beat the doctor up because we fail to work with the system to make it work. Vigilantism should have no voice in our communities. Mass Media has become a problem, the days of spanking our kids are over and parents can not stop a child on social media sites. We can not control what is on our daily TV's. Cartoons were violent only now they show the death and blood. A child exposed to violence will eventually act on that aggression they are exposed to. It is an environmental trait that will take some medial help. The question remains are we equipped to dealing with the youth of tomorrow to bring better cultures?
  17. windy
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    windy - June 10, 2013 6:51 am
    What number does it take to stop bullying. We are talking a string of kids numbering over 60 and over four schools affected. They go from one group to another bullying and isolating individuals. Kids remain quiet hoping it will go away or they take the hit and confront and fight the varied individuals out and hope the beating will stop. It doesn't go away, it creates stronger gangs and more violence. We are teaching the youth of tomorrow that theft, assaults and lack of respect to our elders is ok. The bully law just gives parents the teeth to take these thug kids to court with the signed contract broken by the individuals and allow these kids some aggression therapy. I could talk to you about those who have committed suicide. I have not done this. I am only talking to you about those that survive. The individual who broke her contract quit school, drinking and drugs are usually close behind these kids. Many of these girls have children in school.
  18. 2012
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    2012 - June 10, 2013 6:48 am
    Sticks and stones..... men have been wussified by the left to the point of they invite bullying. You look and dress like a girl, you may get treated poorly. Man up, learn how to fight and punch back. I'd rather tell my story in court than be pushed around by anyone.
  19. windy
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    windy - June 10, 2013 6:45 am
    The billings career center did the best thing. They made the individuals sign an anti bully policy a contract between two kids. The failure was not forcing the parents in and all the inflicted parents to table the problem. Granted parents are busy, when they find out that a string of kids are insiting mass rioting skills then they can dispurse it. the strength of these gains are numbering and they use social media to gain acceptance. What happened to the area doctor should never happen. These kids are violent, their actions are not correct and they are on a stairstep of violence. Mr. Dar Shaw, you did your job. You are a great man and thank you for standing up and taking the time to work with the kids that are lost. Without the laws then kids loose opportunity. They continue until they are in jail. In this case, the victims grades failed and one almost did not graduate. She continued to be bullied in her classes and it was identified to teachers. The girl that started it. Quit school.
  20. windy
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    windy - June 10, 2013 6:41 am
    I took a case before the city this year regarding two girls who were bullied by a group of girls. It equated to over 60 individuals and involved 4 schools. Without the anti-bully law the sucide rates will continue to climb. You can not fight social propaganda. It is proven that with the other states that have inacted anti-bully laws the schools are failing to maintain the rulings. Because they are not designed to police kids. We had an adult medical doctor assaulted and beaten to death. Many of these kids that do not report have had the same thing happen to them. It is a new social class of gang warfare. I am willing to put a new bill together with the help of anyone willing to committee the bills. This time I will take all the schools speech and debaters to capital hill and this will include schools from around the state. Sucide is a silent death. It is washed under the carpet. Currently less than 10% of the victims go forward to school officials. write to me at
  21. onesoldiersmom
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    onesoldiersmom - June 09, 2013 10:45 pm
    my daughter has been bullied since we moved to Billings. She has been physically pushed around, and had 2 bullies threaten to stab her. She has the skills to deal with age appropriate things, not bullying. For the record we did call the police when this escalated and were told until the kids hurt her, there is nothing they can do. How pathetic. In this particular case, the issue is a lack of parental involvement. The mother could care less what her daughter does. I see soo many problems with children who the parents just let run. Those parents need to be held accountable along with their child. I am certainly for strickter punishment on kids that bully. They just grow up to be bigger bullies.
  22. ricci
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    ricci - June 09, 2013 10:42 pm
    Jus I would love to answer your questions. Just because there are policies, that doesn't mean there is a desire to enforce them. I sit here reliving all our struggles, tears in my eyes remembering how 5 yrs of bullying destroyed not only my daughter but our whole family. I would love to share our familie's ordeal. Please be a bit more sensitive. Unless you have walked through that journey, you cannot udge.
  23. ricci
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    ricci - June 09, 2013 10:37 pm
    Jus, you are part of the problem in marginalizing it. Bullying is real and by the time it comes to light, the poor teen has endured much more. Our School Board chairman laughed about it saying it was high school after all and it was part of growing up.

    Moving to a small town in Rosebud Cty, my 7th grade daughter won a spot on a scholastic team. A girl wanting to be on the team with her friends, threatened to "make life hell, if she didnt tell the teacher that she had changed her mind. And hell it was until she dropped out of school and left home in 11thgrade. We tried counseling, summer camps for esteem building. Every year coming back to school we thought we had beaten it until. My daughter fought the good fight and finally broke in the 11th grade. Mental illness, cutting, depression and a host of other problems plague these girls.
    We do not allow the types of behaviors towards others in the workplace, why do we accept them in our schools ? Think on that Jus !
  24. sweeney1776
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    sweeney1776 - June 09, 2013 8:33 pm
    Anti-bullying laws are a recipe for disaster, and this is for the ones who are bullied. Kids who are being picked on need help from friends and family as to how to stand up to unkind or even threatening words and social media. Don't deny them that crucial skill. How are they going to do anything for themselves in life if hurtful words just shut them down and cause them to call in the cops or the lawyers? If they can't stand up against verbal or written attacks as children, how are they going to do it on a job one day? What if they have to stand up for their civil rights one day?
  25. nascarrunner
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    nascarrunner - June 09, 2013 7:19 pm
    Very true, in my time, if you were bullied, you would deck the idiot. Now the idiot can bully someone, and when that someone defends themselves, the bully files an assault charge. Years and years ago my cousin was bullied, he broke the bully's nose. The bully's parents took my uncle and aunt to court to sue for damages for what my cousin did.. The judge dismissed the case, why? The judge told the bully's parents if you kid is going to play big boy games, he pays big boy price, case dismissed AND the other parents had to pay my uncle and aunts lawyers fees, that was justice.
  26. Jus Wundrin
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    Jus Wundrin - June 09, 2013 12:40 pm
    Every school has anti bullying policy. Theyve been there since the last decade at least. Miss Sharp, with all of the documentation (good), could have sued the other student, or her family for slander, defamation, or whatever.

    Other than to make the soccer mom crowd feel warm and fuzzy, what is state anti bullying legislation going to do? What would a minor be charged with? What sentence would a minor incur? Probably none.

    There is way too much emotion driving laws and regulations today. Freedoms are the victim.
  27. Out of State Not Out of Mind
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    Out of State Not Out of Mind - June 09, 2013 12:01 pm
    I started to comment and then stopped, but I feel compelled to say something. Jerry Bennett, really? Parents should just turn off their kids' electronic devices if they are being bullied? Do you really think that is going to stop the bully from posting the messages, and for those messages to stop being seen by others (like other kids, or college admissions officers or potential employers who might Google their applicants?) Why should anyone have to turn off an electronic device because someone else is bullying them? Letting the bully infringe on someone's right to use an electronic device isn't the answer. I am sorry you were bullied because of your height, but it sounds to me like you are being a bit punitive here. That Montana is the only state without some sort of law against bullying and cyber bullying. If 49 other states feel it is critical enough to enact legislation, shouldn't that be an indicator that this is serious?
  28. Bambam
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    Bambam - June 09, 2013 10:29 am
    its a huge problem. in my day the bullies received a broken nose, fat lips at minimum. but know thats assault even if your just defending yourself.

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