Rural Montana schools re-evaluate safety policies after Sandy Hook shootings

2013-01-13T06:15:00Z 2014-03-24T17:59:03Z Rural Montana schools re-evaluate safety policies after Sandy Hook shootingsBy VINCE DEVLIN of the Missoulian missoulian.com
January 13, 2013 6:15 am  • 

THOMPSON FALLS – Schools across America are re-evaluating their policies, procedures and facilities in the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and Thompson Falls is no different.

What is different is that rural school districts like Thompson Falls face much different challenges than urban schools, Superintendent Jerry Pauli says.

There is a limit to how many law enforcement officers could respond quickly to such an incident in a small community, Pauli says, and not enough to secure a perimeter around a school while simultaneously dealing with a shooter inside one.

What, then, if an incident occurs at a rural high school full of teenagers with cellphones?

“Within a minute or two you’d have daughters and sons texting their dads,” Pauli says. “Many people, especially in Montana, have access to weapons, so now you have the possibility of people coming onto a campus that’s not secured to rescue their children – that’s one more thing you have to think about.”

There are dozens more, from – in Thompson Falls’ case – an elementary campus with four buildings, each with multiple entrances, to classroom doors with windows that wouldn’t keep someone with a gun out even if they were locked.

Pauli and the Thompson Falls School Board recently announced the formation of a school safety task force to re-assess how students, teachers and staff can best be protected from the potential of such violence.

***

Don’t misunderstand, Pauli says.

The potential is minute.

The only killing at a Montana school that Pauli says he is aware of happened in 1994 on a Butte playground, where a 10-year old shot at a classmate who had allegedly teased him. The bullet missed the intended target, but struck another schoolmate in the head.

“In the history of the state of Montana, it’s easier to be struck by lightning,” Pauli says. “You’re safer in school than you are driving in a car to Missoula.”

Suicides, drug overdoses and drunken drivers pose bigger threats, Pauli says, “and I wish we had stronger advocacy in areas where we’re losing more children and adults” than die in school shootings.

Still, the superintendent says, it’s been many years since his district addressed the issue – so long that the main concern back then involved the possibility of a sniper, not that someone might walk into a school intending to kill students and adults and then expecting to either kill themselves, or be killed.

The Thompson Falls task force will be co-chaired by Sanders County Commissioner Tony Cox and city council member Raoul Ribeiro. That, Pauli says, will bring both the sheriff’s office and city police department into the picture, and what Sheriff Tom Rummel and Chief of Police Chuck Hammett tell the task force will drive the discussion.

“In this first go-round, law enforcement will be the key player,” Pauli says. “If they tell us they can have one person at the school within five minutes of an incident, then that’s the reality and we can figure out the next step.”

At the school board meeting where the task force was launched, Rummel indicated that most times during school days the sheriff’s office could have as many as five officers respond quickly to the schools, and Hammett said there would likely be two available from the city.

That’s important to know, Pauli says, because it would take at least nine officers just to block all the exits on the elementary school campus.

And his district is better off than any other school in the county, Pauli notes, because Thompson Falls is the county seat and the sheriff’s office is located in town. Response times to schools in smaller communities such as Noxon or Hot Springs could be much greater, depending on where deputies in the far-flung county happened to be at the time of an incident.

The same holds true in every rural county in Montana, Pauli says.

***

No school in Montana is more secure than was Sandy Hook Elementary, Pauli says, but that didn’t stop the massacre of 20 children and six adults last month.

“Our buildings are so old,” Pauli says. “The doors were made for privacy, not security. I could run through any of them, and all the windows are 2 1/2 feet off the ground.”

What’s the solution? Eliminating windows? Replacing glass in doors with shatterproof glass and installing better doors? How do you balance the risk of a possible incident that’s never happened in your community before against a school coming to seem more like a prison? How do you pay for it if you opt to fortify facilities?

Given the limitations in numbers of law enforcement and facilities, are lockdowns the best policy during an incident?

“We have parents who say no, it would be better to get them out of there,” Pauli says. “We need to decide whether lockdowns are the safest thing we can do.”

“There will be different discussions,” he goes on, from arming teachers and staff with bear spray – only law enforcement can legally bring a firearm onto school property in Montana – to installing security cameras throughout the schools, such as Bigfork has done.

Reducing the number of ways people can access school buildings is something else that will probably be discussed, but Pauli says in the case of the physical layout of Thompson Falls’ campuses, that will mean talking about another safety issue, namely, whether you want hoards of people traversing icy streets and hills to get from a parking lot to an entrance.

For Pauli, who is retiring, one of the best answers would be putting school resource officers back in schools. That not only gives you someone on campus who is both armed and trained if the unthinkable ever happened, he says, they’re also people who “have an ear to what’s going on.”

The grants that funded such positions have since run out and, like many other things, how you pay for it is a big question, especially for smaller school districts.

Ultimately, Pauli says, what parents say will weigh heavily, and he wants the task force’s meetings to be well publicized in advance. The superintendent also wants to bring in officials from the Montana Safe School Center at the University of Montana to talk to the task force and parents about ways to make schools safer.

“We need to base things on reality, not ideology,” Pauli says. “We have to look at our finances and facilities, and decide what we want to do.”

Reporter Vince Devlin covers Lake and Sanders counties for the Missoulian. He can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or by email at vdevlin@missoulian.com.

Copyright 2015 missoulian.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(15) Comments

  1. Hakon Montag
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    Hakon Montag - January 14, 2013 10:58 pm
    Your meds are failing you.

    Such dilusions pointed at your fellow citizens, neighbors, and brothers.

    You live a sad and hollow existence. You sound like you could be the brother of 'claudius'.

    By your own vivid assertions you would not be allowed to participate in gun ownership under the 'new guidelines'.

    Dial it back a notch or two...

    I don't know anyone who would own a yellow PowerWagon. What a hideous sight.
  2. Kuato
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    Kuato - January 14, 2013 2:11 pm

    Agreed! MiddleFinger is nothing more then a cyber bully"Agent Provocateur".

  3. COMMON SENSE
    Report Abuse
    COMMON SENSE - January 14, 2013 12:41 pm

    MiddleF's comment, which I have reported for abuse due to his unwarranted, offensive, and libelous use of his version of the hate based communist insult, btw, I also find his moniker offensive also given his comments are just dripping with politically bias goo not to mention his endless, warrentless personally insulting childish attacks, I hardly find worthy of dignifying with any response, As a Montana citizen and in defense of Montana citizens I will say this, the last time I saw Montana citizens in the woods, none of them were dressed (or armed) like they were ready to invade Poland. Unless you like to include the 60 something gentleman dressed in flannel and denim who appeared to be teaching what I presume to be his young grandson about animal tracks on the ground, or maybe the rancher out checking his fences and tending his herd. He too was dressed in flannel and also wore a set of worn Carharts, although, something about his faded caterpillar hat and old Winchester bolt action 30-06 just seemed to scream presidential assassin. Not quite sure just what state Mfinger was in there I'm quite sure it wasn't Montana. In fact, Hey Trib censors, how about suspending this guys account until he issues a written retraction to his libelous "kommie" accusations and a public written apologie to the citizens of Montana.

  4. COMMON SENSE
    Report Abuse
    COMMON SENSE - January 14, 2013 4:38 am
    Let's put this into perspective, your message vs. mine

    My message:
    Welcome to the land of the free & the home of the brave. Live life your own way, 'Normal' is just an illusion, there is no 'normal'

    Your message:
    You will be assimilated
    Freedom is irrelevant
    Self-determination is irrelevant
    You will adapt to service US
    Resistance is futile!

    All that's missing is,
    Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to our own!
    You will disarm all your weapons and escort us to sector 001
    If you attempt to intervene, we will destroy you!

    Well, actually, I'm sure you'd love to see us disarmed, so I suppose all that's missing is:
    Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to our own! (Stay tuned folks...)
    You will escort us to sector 001, which is nonsensical since were not on a starship, which leaves only:
    If you attempt to intervene, we will destroy you!

    Well now, if someone threatened you and your way of life with destruction, wouldn't you be motivated to defend yourself against the perceived oppression?

    The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, the best friend of a freedom loving people...Also effective against the Borg!
  5. COMMON SENSE
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    COMMON SENSE - January 14, 2013 4:17 am
    Sounds to me like you would feel safer living in Chicago, much tougher on guns, um anyone happen to catch the latest stats on the violent crime rate there?
  6. COMMON SENSE
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    COMMON SENSE - January 14, 2013 12:51 am
    So...are free to live their lives ONLY if they conform to societal norms, how 1984ish of you. Welcome to the land of the left and the home of the coward.
  7. COMMON SENSE
    Report Abuse
    COMMON SENSE - January 13, 2013 5:45 pm
    "NRA wing-nuts, Jason Bourne wanna-bes, and card carrying members of the James Bond fanboy club."

    This is what you see when you look at the avarage Montana citizen? You would have committed anyone who even thinks of picking up a gun for ANY reason? Next time you want to celebrate your freedom, thank a soldier or a police officer. Your likely to get that Middle Finger right back at you!
  8. Kuato
    Report Abuse
    Kuato - January 13, 2013 3:53 pm
    "Once again government funded mock emergency drill ( active shooter drill ) was being conducted at a nearby school at the very same time the supposed real time shooting was taking place at Sand Hook Elementary at Newtown Connecticut -leaving all the finger prints of a government staged false flag attack event to strip guns from the American people".(www,theintelhub.com)
  9. Roger
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    Roger - January 13, 2013 3:07 pm
    I was thinking of doing that in the schools - but you raise some serious issues. It may be unconstitutional.
  10. MontanaNative1ed7
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    MontanaNative1ed7 - January 13, 2013 12:27 pm
    Gabby Giffords has a glock. Maybe she can help you? Her husband was in the military. He is very qualified. They have both lived through the shooting incident in Arizona. In that incident someone almost shot the citizen who was wrestling the shooter. Who better to explain how not to shoot the wrong person?
  11. MontanaNative1ed7
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    MontanaNative1ed7 - January 13, 2013 12:22 pm
    Thanks for the LAUGH! It is healthy to laugh. It is not healthy to hate and isolate at home with piles of guns. Roger: I will help pay for you to move to the Gun Liberation Citadel. You will find like minded people there. You will no longer need to complain about the Missoulian. You can start your own newspaper. Your gun will be free at last in the promised land of the CITADEL.
  12. MiddleFinger
    Report Abuse
    MiddleFinger - January 13, 2013 9:25 am
    Great idea Kommie Sense. At the first sign of danger, the school can turn on its Bats**T Crazy sign, and flood the schools with NRA wing-nuts, Jason Bourne wanna-bes, and card carrying members of the James Bond fanboy club. And the cool thing would be watching the action of a whole schoolbus load of gun clowns trying to out Marbut each other and be the next superhero in order to make up for all the stupid things they've done in their sad little gunloving lives.

    But of course none of this could happen because the moment we institute Herr Roger's plan, none of the applicants would be allowed to play with guns anymore, and most would loose their gun rights due to psychological indicators of potential for extreme violence.

    Guess Rog's final solution would also knock out most of us here on the MSOlian's discussion board as well. Right Mr. Rabbit?
  13. COMMON SENSE
    Report Abuse
    COMMON SENSE - January 13, 2013 9:23 am
    I agree greater attention needs to be paid to reforming our mental health system. Let us also recognize the slippery slope there. Just because someone wishes to live in seclusion away from society for example, does not mean that individual is mentally ill or dangerous in any way. Yet, there are those among us who would instantly jump to the 'mentally unbalanced/threat to society conclusion and advocate suspending his/her civil rights and locking them away in a sanitarium. We must make sure the political opportunists and kickback taking pill dispensing quack doctors have absolutely NO ROLE whatsoever in reforming this system. Also, I think ALL major decisions regarding the disposition and judgment as to a person's mental state be subject to joint civilian/government oversite as well as judicial appeal.
  14. Roger
    Report Abuse
    Roger - January 13, 2013 7:47 am
    We may want to consider psychological testing that possibly could reveal a higher risk of violence in individuals, as people with mental problems are at greater risk of committing violent crimes.
  15. COMMON SENSE
    Report Abuse
    COMMON SENSE - January 13, 2013 4:45 am
    We live in a state of mostly good & descent people, the vast majority of whom are proud and responsible owners of firearms. Seems to me the solution is simple, of course nobody want's to hear it, Organized and POLICE trained & supervised volunteer civilian posses to be activated ONLY in the event of a major crisis that would otherwise overwhelm normal on-duty & off duty LE personnel. Sheriff Joe in AZ is using such groups right now to patrol around schools. Contrary to liberal propaganda Our Second Amendment is not in place just so some redneck can shoot a deer! It's there so our citizens can participate in our national defense as needed. Let's show the left just WHAT the 2nd Amendment is for and WHY we still have one! How's that for a plan to secure our schools Mr. President!
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