Big Sky High School was under a perimeter lock-in Thursday after graffiti was found in a girls' bathroom that reads "Don't be at Big Sky at 1:20." The lock-in was in place throughout the day.
School officials said in an afternoon news conference that classes at Big Sky will be in session Friday, but that extra law enforcement was being added as a security measure. Security measures are being taken throughout the district as well, a spokesperson said.
The lock-in began around 11:30 a.m. About half of the students at Big Sky were still attending classes as of 1:20 p.m.; the other half had left or been picked up by parents, said Missoula County Public Schools Communication Director Hatton Littman.
Missoula County Public Schools Superintendent Mark Thane told reporters in a late afternoon news conference that graffiti had been found in two bathrooms, one boys' and one girls'.
“It’s a tremendous challenge for us to differentiate what is a joke and what is a real threat,” he said. “It’s somewhat like the boy who cried wolf. If we do this too frequently, students and teachers become dismissive of threats. And that’s a real tragedy in case of a real emergency. You lose that sense of urgency. I know a number of students who were dismissive of the recent threats but some were really emotionally impacted.”
Throughout the day, staff were posted at all entrances of the school and monitored anyone entering and exiting the building, according to officials. Additional law enforcement officers also were present at the school. They remained through Thursday night's sports and extracurricular events and would be there during the Friday school day.
Mark Rodriguez, a parent of a Big Sky student, went to the school to pick up his son around 12:50 p.m. after his son texted him from his classroom. Rodriguez said the school is allowing parents to pick up their kids.
Earlier this week, Big Sky High School dealt with reports that a student made a verbal threat toward the school. Two people — a teacher and a student's parent — reported it to school officials.
The school convened its "threat assessment team," which includes teachers, administration, school counselors and a school resource officer who is either a member of the Missoula Police Department or the sheriff's department. The team found there to be a "low threat" to the school, and the student is back in classes.
Rodriguez said he contacted the school yesterday with concerns about that student being allowed back in classes, but he was assured it was safe.
"We expressed our concern about not allowing our son to go to school today," Rodriguez said. "It keeps escalating. I'm regretting letting him go to school today. I can tell you for sure he's not going to school tomorrow."
Parents were not notified by the school district of the verbal threat to Big Sky, and many found out about it through social media or news media. Littman said the policy is not to notify the school community of a threat that is found to be low by the threat assessment team.
For example, Superintendent Thane said there were several recent social media posts and at least one quote from a student in a local media outlet reporting “an active shooter” that were false.
“We did not have any situations where students were barricading in the classrooms as was reported on social media,” Thane said. “I wish I knew (why or how a student heard there was an active shooter). It’s the rumor mill, unfortunately. When it gets posted to social media, it gets accepted as fact and it’s not always accurate. We want students to consider the impacts of the statements they make.”
The district has to take every threat, seriously, he said.