Highland High School acknowledges serious bullying incident

Two high school coaches resigned recently after a locker room bullying incident. Administrators at Highland High School in Ewing, Mo. confirm an incident took place in January. The incident was of a sexual nature, but is not being labeled sexual harassment, school officials said. "It could have been, yes, sexual harassment, and that's where there's a lot of gray area," Lewis County C-1 School District Superintendent Jacqueline Ebeling said. The head basketball coach and junior varsity basketball coach resigned after the incident occurred in the boy TMs basketball locker room. Two upperclassmen players targeted an underclassmen sometime in January of 2012, Ebeling said. The actions were classified by the district as bullying. "At the time and even now we never ... we never talked about sexual harassment, but definitely bullying," Ebeling said. The school's policy regarding bullying, hazing, and sexual harassment comes from the Safe Schools Act. Bullying is described as "intimidation or harassment of a student or multiple students perpetuated by individuals or groups." The two student-athletes responsible for the bullying were given 5 days In School Suspension and benched for 3 games. "We looked at our discipline policy, the policy that we have online. After gathering all the facts from all the individuals involved, we decided it didn't fit that category," Larry Post, Highland High School assistant principal and athletic director said. Ebeling became involved in the situation in February after receiving phone calls from concerned parents. She met with the two boys to discuss the allegations. "I did not discipline the young men, she said. I felt like they were disciplined according to policy. The district didn TMt formally notify the students TM parents. The incident was originally brought to the school's attention when parents of the victim's friends came forward. School board member David Porter had his own concerns about the bullying. "That's what has got some people so furious is why does this keep occurring, why isn't more being done," he said. Porter expressed concern that parents weren TMt contacted. Porter believes as a school board member, he should have learned about the allegations sooner. School district staff recently held a training event to discuss their legal obligations to report bullying. The district mandates that employees take yearly training in recognizing and dealing with bullying and hazing. "We have found that there is other bullying that has been going on," Ebeling said. The locker room has now been separated by upperclassmen and underclassmen. Athletes have been encouraged to speak up if they see incidents of bullying. The district now requires coaches to be a presence in locker rooms, and do regular walkthroughs while locker rooms are in use, Post said. The basketball coaches were not in the room when the bullying was taking place. Counselors are also working to emphasize to students the seriousness of bullying. "It can have long term damaging effects with that person, Sarah Adam, middle school counselor said. But my hopes would be that they understand that they can't control what others do to them. The main thing is that they have to learn to be aware of self ... that self esteem is important." The Lewis County Sheriff's department confirmed to KHQA that they were notified of the incident but there was no formal police investigation. The district is holding a community night on bullying April 18th and encourages students and parents to attend.