FRENCHTOWN – Frenchtown schools were mostly back to normal Friday after a bomb threat scrawled on a mirror in a junior high boys’ bathroom Thursday prompted the evacuation of some 600 students.
Superintendent Randy Cline said as many as 10 parents opted to keep their students home Friday. Most of the students were from the elementary school a mile away across Interstate 90 and the Montana Rail Link tracks.
“They were still probably upset about the events from yesterday,” said Cline, who described the scene at the elementary school as “a lot of commotion” when junior high and high school students who didn’t have their own rides home were bused there.
“The police were there directing traffic and the parents were coming in and taking students out, and when they had elementary students they also took them out,” Cline said.
In his 20 years of school administration, Cline has been involved in one other such incident. Some parents held their students out the next day in the earlier one, too, he noted.
“I just think safety first. If parents want to excuse their children because they have safety concerns, we consider it the same as with weather. If you don’t think it’s safe to bring your child to school because of the weather, then don’t bring them,” said Cline.
The school was still working through a list of suspects to determine who wrote, “There will be a bomb going off in this school,” in the junior high.
The list was winnowed down Friday, Cline said, but because the school investigation involves talking to students and parents, it will probably continue into next week.
The normalcy at Frenchtown was in contrast to that experienced by Helena schools on Friday. They received a third bomb threat in five days Friday and evacuated all K-12 public schools for the second time in three days. Late in the day, an arrest was made in connection with those incidents.
Cline said the Frenchtown junior high was cleared Thursday within minutes of the school’s call to 9-1-1 after the bomb threat was detected. Students and teachers were summoned to report immediately to the gym in the adjacent high school.
“If there had been a phone threat, we would have evacuated (the junior high and high school) immediately, but because we knew it was a threat written by a student in the junior high, and it said ‘this school,’ the best course we thought was to get the students out of the junior high and then wait on law enforcement to evacuate everybody,” he said.
The Missoula County Sheriff’s Department made the call to evacuate both schools, but has turned the investigation back to the school.
“Hopefully if we can catch the perpetrators right away, we can put a stop to this,” Cline said.