Schools trying to do ‘what is fair’ for students

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Kalispell Public Schools Superintendent Darlene Schottle is rebutting several claims about the school administration’s handling of the Sept. 12 incident on a freshman football bus.

According to Schottle, a “harassment/bullying/intimidation type of action” took place on the Glacier High School bus.

Others, including the mother of an alleged victim, said the incident also may have included varying degrees of brutality and sexual indecency or assault. Coaches on the bus were reportedly asleep at the time.

Schottle said she was most concerned about a story in Wednesday’s Inter Lake that included the mother’s description of the bus incident as well as criticism of how the school district has handled the situation. Schottle said she worries the story could jeopardize students’ confidentiality as well as the ongoing criminal investigation.

“I am concerned about the integrity of that situation now that students who have been involved have read that in the newspaper,” Schottle said.

The player’s mother said eight victims were attacked and molested by six students, three of whom were supposedly leading the charge. The mother was not identified because the Inter Lake’s policy is not to identify victims of alleged sexual assaults or their family members.

Schottle tackled head-on the suggestion that she and other administrators might be covering up the incident and any resulting punishment, again citing her concern for the integrity of the investigation.

“I do understand that some things are very difficult to understand, like why we can’t share all information,” Schottle said. “We frequently find ourselves in that position. It’s not because we’re trying to hide something, but because we’re trying to protect the process and all of the students that may be involved in the investigation.”

The school’s investigation began the day after the incident, she said. All the accused were immediately suspended for eight days, partially so their input and that of the victims could be gathered more easily.

“We knew in order to do an effective investigation they would need a chance to respond,” Schottle said. “Sometimes they need to talk about it two or three times ... before their memory is clear about how it happened. It was important to us to get to the absolute truth and make sure everybody had an opportunity to say what it was they needed to say.”

To eschew fears that the incident was being “swept under the rug,” Schottle explained the next steps for the school and its administration.

The school’s investigation has concluded and she received its results Tuesday, at which point summaries were provided to the accused — summaries that only included those points that related directly to their own individual actions. The alleged victims did not receive investigation results.

Schottle now will provide an opportunity for the accused to speak with her individually.

“I will need to make some recommendations to the students that were involved and clarify that to my board of trustees,” Schottle said, later adding, “Based on [the accused students’] input and input from school site personnel, then it would be my job to modify those recommendations and, if necessary, to send those forward to the board of trustees.”

She said she could not yet share what the recommended punishment of each student will be, as she has not yet provided them with opportunities to speak with her, but noted they could range from the eight days of suspension — which end Monday — to expulsion.

“There is a whole range of actions that could occur and the only body that has the ability to do expulsions is the board of school trustees, and their next regular meeting isn’t until October.”

She said the accused students’ punishments by the district would be decided without waiting for the completion of the criminal investigation by the Kalispell Police Department.

Schottle said she had one main point to share with the community.

“We are taking this very seriously and we are not trying to hide the outcomes or the process of investigation, we are just trying to ensure we are doing what is fair to the students,” Schottle said. “Sometimes it takes a little time to do that appropriately and make sure we are safeguarding everyone along the way.”

Reporter Jesse Davis may be reached at 758-4441 or by email at jdavis@dailyinterlake.com.

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