(Riverton, Wyo.) – After nearly six months of enduring criticism from some in the community over its handling of some wrestler’s inappropriate touching incident on a school bus back in January, the Fremont County School District #25 Board of Trustees responded at a meeting earlier this month. Until then, the board, and school district administrators, had held their respective tongues about the issue until the criminal cases had been adjudicated.
The three wrestlers involved each pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in Natrona County and each received jail sentences. All three were expelled from school for one year.
Superintendent Terry Snyder, in a written statement, wrote that the District did not have an opportunity to “counter the multiple false accusations made in the Natrona County legal proceedings. From the beginning, the perpetrators had no defense for what they did so they chose to blame the school, all of the athletic teams, their former teammates plus the present and past coaches.”
“There was total misinformation, so much misinformation and so much stuff on the Internet that stirred up stuff with inflammatory headlines,” Chairman Carl Manning said. “This community needs to come together and if there are feelings that need to be expressed, they should come to us and we would be happy to listen. But when people talk in uniformed ways, internet or gossip, our hands are tied in a lot of this stuff. We are protecting students rights and privileges to have anonymity. Some of this stuff is pure damn mean.”
In addressing the board, Manning issued an apology to them. “I apologize to you for things being said about the board. When we found out about it, we took care of it. We should not be blamed for it. Whatever culture there might have been, we didn’t know until we were told about it. As soon as it was brought to light, we acted on it. Our administrators did it right. We did our job to take care of it. I do not feel like we did something wrong. It was hurtful to us, nothing that we liked. This community needs to know that. When you light a fire and let it burn it hurts the community,” he said. “We’ve been called a lot of names, we don’t deserve those tags. Things happen, you look at it and you fix it. We must be diligent. We must always be watchful and be careful with what happens to our students. Some people tried to hurt the district to help their clients. They tried to make it other people’s problems and not those who did it. Those students were rightly disciplined.”
Board member Lynette Jeffres agreed. “No one was responsible for their actions than them,” she said, “no one wants to take care of their own business.”
The District’s Attorney Joel Vincent also chimed in. “Ultimately, these were 17-year-old young men who did this. Seventeen. And they did it. This wasn’t hazing, this was hurtful. It was there to intimidate and frighten them, not to initiate anyone. If people would only behave and act with civility,” he said.
Superintendent Terry Snyder said the problem only came to light when one of the victim’s stepped forward. “I want to thank the victims for coming forward. We can’t have this. We have to know about it before we can stop it. It took courage to bring this forward,” he said. “Through all of this, we say thank you to those victims who came forward so the high school administration, myself and the board could do their job. We wish them the greatest recovery and success. We also hope the perpetrators learned their lessons and we wish them well. The victims were the real heroes here.”
In his written statement, Snyder also said, “there is no culture of hazing at the District. As soon as the District knew of the wrestling incident, it dealt with it appropriately by thoroughly investigating and disciplining those who were responsible. The District also instituted measures to prevent anything like this from happening again and to help the community and students move forward. We will not tolerate hazing in any form. I stand by the actions and character of my staff, students, coaches and athletes.”
To reinforce that message, the District has invited the community to an anti-hazing and bullying program on October 8 at 6 p.m. at the Riverton Middle School Multi-Purpose Room. The program will be presented by Dennis Goodwin of the Anti-Hazing Collaborative. The program will include the topics of how to heal the community, empowering bystanders and the difference between bullying and hazing.