Bowman Family: Bigfork High School’s Report an ‘Insult’

By Beacon Staff

The family of Jeffrey Bowman, a Bigfork teenager who collapsed on the first day of high school football practice and died a week later, says an investigative report contracted by the school “is an insult to our late son, his family and the community.”

The 24-page report detailed the conclusions of Elizabeth Kaleva, a Missoula attorney who specializes in school law and was hired by the Bigfork School District to investigate the circumstances surrounding Bowman’s death. The report was released to the public Tuesday evening.

After more than 30 interviews with students, coaches and parents, Kaleva made two conclusions in her report: the district allowed students to practice without MHSA-required physicals because they didn’t have an “adequate system” in place to determine who was eligible to practice; and, the response of the coaches on the field was “appropriate under the circumstances.”

Estimates of the time it took coaches to approach and aid Bowman after he collapsed differed in the report. Kaleva said that of the 37 interviews or submitted written statements, 14 people didn’t witness the event enough to comment on the coaches response. Of the remaining 23 witnesses, 19 said the coaches’ response “was appropriate, and estimated that it took the first coach anywhere from 20-30 seconds to a minute to get to Jeff after he stopped running.” Kaleva said four witnesses, none of whom saw Bowman stop running, estimated Bowman was on the ground for two to three minutes before the first coach responded.

Jeffrey Bowman’s parents, Bob and Troy Bowman, received the report after a brief school board meeting Monday evening – 24 hours before the report was released to the public – and released a statement Tuesday evening criticizing the report’s methodology and conclusions. “We believe that the report prepared by the school’s hand-picked attorney is a biased, misleading, and an incomplete charade.”

The Bowmans said they believed Kaleva started with the conclusion that the coaches responded appropriately and “then tried to manufacture a report to support it.” They argued that Kaleva ignored testimony of the three students who contradicted coaches in an attempt to protect the school, and disagreed with Kaleva’s assessment that a student interview – conducted with multiple lawyers present – was “tainted.”

The Bowmans also called the school’s failure to investigate whether coaches were wrong to hold to practice on the smoky and hot day their son died “an admission of guilt.” They asked to be told why that question was not addressed in the report and why Kaleva questioned witnesses about the smoke and heat if it wasn’t part of the investigation.

According to the report, the scope of the investigation was limited to whether the district complied with rules regarding physicals and whether the coaches’ response was appropriate. It acknowledges that the cause of Bowman’s death was not addressed, including the smoke and heat conditions that day, but doesn’t say why this information was excluded.

Superintendent Russ Kinzer released a brief statement Tuesday evening saying, “Out of respect for the family I’m not going to comment on the content of the report. The report speaks for itself and people are encouraged to read it for themselves.”

Anyone interested in getting a copy of the report can pick up a copy at the superintendent’s office located at 600 Commerce St. in Bigfork.

Update: Investigation report in its entirety

Related: Bowman family’s response in its entirety