DARBY - The message was clear: There will be consequences if a parent shows up at a school function under the influence of alcohol and acts inappropriately toward students or faculty.
Citing behavior that was in violation of Darby School District rules for interfering with school business, a Darby-area parent has been banned from coming on school property or to events for the remainder of the school year, a punishment handed down Monday night by the Darby School Board in reaction to an incident at the school's Christmas concert.
Darby Superintendent Tim Bronk said he didn't think the punishment given to Eli Hansen, parent or guardian of four Darby students, was overly harsh given the seriousness of an incident in which Bronk and others allege Hansen behaved in an inappropriate and threatening manner, while "smelling strongly of alcohol."
"To me the policy is very clear," Bronk said. "We have expectations in the way of sportsmanship here - there's a certain standard of decorum that we need to hold people to, especially when they are in the presence of children. And we need to uphold that standard or it becomes very weak."
Both Bronk and Darby High principal Jennifer Burdette said they were sufficiently alarmed that they called law enforcement to the scene following the December encounter.
Hansen allegedly came up behind Bronk and Burdette smelling of alcohol, put his hands on their necks while pulling the pair toward each other and making disparaging remarks about the concert.
Though no arrest or charges came from the incident, both Bronk and Burdett wrote the school board and asked that the matter of Hansen's violation of school district rules be taken up.
Monday's meeting came on the heels of a session last week during which Hansen and board chair Dixie Stark had a heated exchange over Hansen's alleged behavior at the concert. The exchange was heated enough that Stark requested legal counsel from the Montana School Board Association for the follow-up meeting.
Hansen, who requested that Monday's discussion of the incident be held in open session, did not dispute the facts. He said he did put his hands on the shoulders of Bronk and Burdett, did make disparaging remarks about the pair's negative impact on the Darby music program, and drank some alcohol before attending the concert.
But Hansen vehemently disputed the characterization of the incident, saying he always had civil discourse with his kids' teachers, never drank heavily while in town and was in no way a violent person.
"I'm very active in my children's education," he said. "I'm constantly on school property. I would appreciate that there would be some consideration of the fact that I don't think there's never been one question of my conduct and I've had many meetings, and some of them were difficult."
Hansen said he also couldn't blame alcohol for his behavior. That he approached the administrators with criticism of the school's music program was a "perfectly appropriate response" for a former music education major.
"As you all know, I'm blessed and cursed with the propensity to say what I think," Hansen said.
But in a 2-1 vote - Stark abstained because she has a longstanding friendship with Hansen and Coby Smith abstained because he witnessed the incident - the board ruled that Hansen's behavior was not appropriate.
In explaining her nay vote on sanctions against Hansen, trustee Kate Duggan said she agreed that the behavior was not acceptable, but had hoped the punishment might be modified to allow him to be a part of the day-to-day school routine of his kids.
The public's reaction to the situation also weighed in overwhelmingly in favor of handing down a lesser punishment to Hansen.
But in the end, the board moved to restrict him from the school entirely for "interfering," rather than find him in violation of the lesser offence of bad behavior at an extracurricular event, a move that would have only barred him from extracurricular events.
Eric Abrahamson explained that the move was necessary to show the school takes its rules seriously.
"These are serious allegations," Bronk said.
Reporter Sepp Jannotta can be reached at 363-3300 or email@example.com.