The last time the advisory committee tasked with identifying facility safety and security issues for Missoula County Public Schools got together it was for a bus tour in March.

In order to better understand safety challenges and help make recommendations for improvements to the Board of Trustees, the committee comprised of a diverse cross-section of community members walked the halls at a handful of schools.

The notion was that by doing so problems would be easier to define and solutions could be found.

On Wednesday, when the committee reconvened to discuss its findings, members found they were no closer to answers and the wide-ranging building safety problems were as vexing as ever.

How to identify and regulate who is coming and going at schools took up much of the discussion.

Some of the ideas talked about were controlling access with intercom systems, access badges, door cameras and guards; teaching students to not open doors to the public; isolating night groups that use facilities; and training schools with a “see something, say something” message.

Frustrations were aired late in the two-hour meeting, with several members disagreeing about the effectiveness of security cameras.

As in past meetings, conversations wandered into matters regarding public safety, which is a topic assigned to a different committee.

“We always seem to drift into teacher empowerment and resistance,” said Ginny Tribe, meeting moderator.

When Tribe asked to refocus the conversation on facility challenges, Zack Allen, a former soldier and Missoula parent retorted: “We can’t make facility challenges in a vacuum. There is a bleed-over and we have to be sensitive to that.”

After hearing the flood of ideas and discussion, veteran security expert Tom Schussler said he didn’t think the committee had the technical expertise to recommend safety measures.

Schussler also wondered where money will come from to pay for all the suggested improvements.

Mark Thane, MCPS regional director, explained that the district is launching a study of its facilities with an architect and will engage in a yearlong process to determine building needs and improvements.

Recommendations that come from the facility safety committee, he said, will be of great help in that process, and funding for the improvements hopefully will come from a taxpayer supported bond.

“This group will have the credibility to justify to the public the need for the bond,” said Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir.

To get the committee back on track with its original job to make schools safer, Tribe handed out homework to be done for the May meeting.

“Come back with three priority actions that need to be done in the short term,” Tribe said. “And identify issues that need to be resolved in the longer term.”

Money, she said, and how to fund these things, will be discussed later.

Just as the meeting came to a close, the most supported idea of the evening came forward.

Kurt Carlson, an airport safety expert who had remained quiet throughout the evening’s discussions made an observation about his own line of work that could be helpful to the committee moving forward.

“In my line of work, if you’ve seen one airport, you’ve seen one airport,” Carlson said. “Ask the teachers specifically what is important to them when it comes to safety. They are the person standing in the front of the classroom and they have a lot of good ideas.

“Let’s survey the teachers before school is out.”

Every member agreed, and Cold Springs Principal Webb Harrington reminded the group to not get discouraged.

“We got adrift, but we aren’t making decisions here,” she said. “We are only making recommendations to the school board.”

Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at bcohen@missoulian.com.

(5) comments

walter12
walter12

Our leftists are so stupid. How can you secure a high school when the school allows the lunch period to be a free for all and everyone drives off in their own cars during lunch? Why does a dumb- a-- teenager need so much freedom?

ShaynaJ
ShaynaJ

There is no training in the world like the military training in The United States. JonC is right. People who have been through military training are equipped to handle situations like school shootings extremely quickly and effectively, in the minutes of chaos BEFORE police officers are able to get to the scene. Put plain clothed, armed Veterans in every school 5 days a week and this would absolutely save lives in our public schools! Unfortunately, you can't count on other students or teachers to report everything they hear or see that might be suspicious. I think this would generate so many false leads and tie up our system. A military member would have the skills to be watchful, keep tabs on students, and know what incidences are worthy of reporting to officials. I would also be willing to bet that there are enough active National Guard and/or retired military members in our community who would love a job like this, and they would be lined up for blocks to apply for the positions.

Roger
Roger

A 2002 U.S. Secret Service study found that school shootings were rarely impulsive - most were planned in advance. Furthermore, other students knew about the shooting in advance, but failed to notify adults. Almost every shooter had engaged in behavior prior to the shooting that had seriously concerned at least one adult, and for many had concerned three or more adults.

Clearly, teachers and other adults need to take seriously student behavior problems that concern them, and quit giving these possibly sociopathic problem children a free pass. And what does it say about some of these other students who knew in advance of the shootings, but failed to tell an adult?

JonC
JonC

Here's a thought. Instead of giving an all but useless Superintendent such a huge amount of money, use those funds (along with other District wasted funds) to hire Montana veterans as campus security officers. Restrict the hiring pool to veterans. Arm them. Post them at entrances and exits to all schools in the Missoula County Public School District. Pay them a good wage. It would be a safe bet that our children would be so much safer than any other half-cocked plan that anyone in an advisory capacity would come up with.

Jon_w
Jon_w

This is a good idea. BUT, i would prefer to see that the courtyard at hellgate be left open during school hours and certain hours during the summer to Those of us who like me have attended and graduated hellgate can visit the courtyard.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.