No example is quite so delightful as a 2015 episode at the high school in Bozeman, Montana. It turns out the bear was an early bird—despite the species’ reputation for sleeping at length, it couldn’t compete with the slumber of teenage humans, and arrived well before the starting school bell:
The bear entered the school through an open garage door in the back of the building at around 7:30 a.m., nearly an hour before school started. Students and staff were in the building, according to Bozeman Public Schools Superintendent Rob Watson. The bear left through another open door after about a minute.
The cub rattled around lockers, presumably looking for honey, and rattled some school officials. In a short video, a nervous voice asks the principal, “What do you want me to do, Kevin?”
But as the Billings Gazette reports (as part of its “Montana Bears in the News Series”), the animal eventually ambled out of the school on its own, with no live ammunition needed.
That seems to be the case for most bears’ scholastic excursions. In 2013, students in Montclair, New Jersey, were put on lockdown after a black bear was spotted near an elementary school. The bear was eventually found in a tree, shot down with a tranquilizer gun, and freed. Something similar happened in Ridgewood, New Jersey, the following year. That animal was “caused no harm,” The New York Times assured readers. In 2011, a bear cavorted outside Tualatin Elementary School in Oregon before being caught and released in the wild. Bears have been tranquilized or trapped when they got too close to schools in states from Connecticut to Florida to Idaho, though it’s just as common for them to simply clear out before anyone can do anything. In 1985, employees at a girls’ school in upstate New York tried to run one off but only succeeded in scaring it up a tree, from whence animal-control officials had to retrieve it.
It turns out that what motivates the bears is the same thing that manages to get many teenagers up and moving on a daily basis: “They’re after food and sex,” a Connecticut state biologist told the Times in 2005.
Sadly, not every encounter resolves itself peacefully; some come to a grizzly ending. In Irvington, New Jersey, in 2006, a frightened black bear scared officials, too, resulting in a lockdown of schools. But with the end of the school day nearing, it was decided that the bear had to go. As officers neared the animal, wielding tranquilizer guns, it became aggressive, and they decided to shoot it with a shotgun.
“It was for our own safety,” said the impossibly well-named animal-control officer Jim Osorio.
In 2015, authorities managed to catch a bear that had been menacing schools in Arvada, Colorado, but ultimately decided to euthanize her because of health concerns.