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Glacier High students disciplined following hazing allegations

Daily Inter Lake | January 31, 2023 3:13 PM

Two Glacier High School students have been suspended from extracurricular activities for the remainder of the school year as officials investigate allegations of hazing on the wrestling team last year.

Attorney Elizabeth Kaleva said both would be eligible to resume extracurriculars upon completion of a Center for Restorative Youth Justice program. Kaleva is representing Kalispell Public Schools on a complaint alleging instances of assault and sexual assault among members of the wrestling team.

A third student also has received disciplinary action, though Kaleva declined to offer specifics on Tuesday. She said the penalty was modified in such a way that it likely would identify the individual, violating the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

The disciplinary action followed hearings held Monday evening during a special meeting of the district’s board of trustees. The hearings were the first held on the allegations since the school district’s investigation began in January. According to Superintendent Micah Hill, officials learned of the allegations Jan. 9.

The Kalispell Police Department is simultaneously investigating the allegations.

Monday’s hearings were held in executive session, which is closed to the public, after determining the “demands of individual privacy clearly exceeds the merit of public disclosure,” a provision of Montana’s Open Meeting law.

Nine trustees of the 11-member board attended the hearings. While all of the recommendations voted on by trustees passed, none were unanimous. Trustees split 7-2 in the first hearing and 6-3 in the subsequent hearings.

Officials refrained from disclosing the details of the recommendations. Hill said afterward that releasing the disciplinary measures taken in the open meeting might allow members of the public to identify the students and run afoul of privacy laws. The students involved attended the hearings, Hill said.

Glacier High School Principal Brad Holloway and Glacier Athletic Director Mark Dennehy, who doubles as assistant principal, were present during the hearings, but deferred any comment to Hill.

Following the hearings, the meeting went into executive session a fourth and final time for discussion of legal strategy among trustees and administrators, joined by legal counsel, due to pending litigation.

Kalispell attorney Michael Bliven of Bliven Law Firm alleged in a complaint sent to administrators Jan. 20 that students suffered assaults, some sexual, while participating in the high school’s wrestling program. The complaint, which NBC Montana first reported on, accuses coaches and school officials of turning a blind eye to the assaults, which arose from “a culture and ‘tradition’ of hazing” at the high school.

The meeting then re-opened for public comment for matters, but, by this time, no one was present in the audience.

Glacier High School administrators dealt with hazing allegations once before, roughly a decade ago. In 2011-12 a highly publicized incident on a freshman football bus resulted in multiple suspensions with several of the students facing assault charges in Flathead Youth Court.

Hill, now district superintendent, was an assistant principal at Glacier High School at the time of the bus incident. Asked whether changes were made following that incident, Hill replied via email that coaches strive to maintain open lines of communications with athletes and their parents throughout the season.

The district also relies upon a code of conduct and existing policies, Hill wrote.

“Coaches meet with student-athletes and their parents before each season begins to discuss team rules and expectations — and provide regular reminders of these throughout the season,” he wrote. “When we learn of allegations of misconduct by any student, we investigate swiftly and thoroughly and then respond according to our established policies.”

Trustee Jack Fallon served on the school board at the time.

“The dilemma we’re starting to see among youth, two issues are concerning, one is students do not realize the magnitude of decisions when they’re making them combined with TikTok challenges,” Fallon said Wednesday. “Right now, youth do not seem to understand their lack of respect for another person until something goes wrong.”

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 406-758-4431 or by email at hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.