MISSOULA – Science fairs, school buses and school safety. Missoula County Public Schools kicks off a new year with some new ways to keep its campuses secure.
We sat down with MCPS Superintendent Mark Thane to talk about the new normal in the age of school violence and how the Smart Schools 2020 bond is helping.
Security greets you at the door at Chief Charlo Elementary School in Missoula. Staff wants to know who, where and why someone wants to access their campus.
These security vestibules are going at all MCPS schools, this one already installed at Hellgate High School and one at Sentinel High that’s under construction, plus there’s a new card key access system in the schools that’s in the works that can provide customized access for students and staff.
“Essentially, individualized by student and by building will be critical," Thane said. "So, for example, if you have a child who has a 6:30 a.m. weight training class three days a week, they could have the system programmed so they can swipe in at 6:30 in the morning on those days and be admitted to the building, but their card key wouldn’t work at other times”
MCPS is also installing new security cameras, paging and bell systems, upgrades that are becoming more crucial.
There were lessons learned about communication, especially after this year’s incident at Big Sky High School where a student resource officer said he fired his weapon several times to prevent a student from running him over.
“We have developed some updated communications protocols," Thane said. "We’re working with our administration team now in terms of disseminating that information and how it will be disseminated to parents. It’s always a judgment call, certainly in those areas where it’s critical and newsworthy. We would like to make an effort to get that information to parents before they see it on social media or before they hear it through the traditional media. What’s important, however, is we also know that in the time of crisis, the administrators need to respond to that crisis first and foremost."
The school year is starting with more than 60 new teachers at MCPS, so the administration plans to continue active shooter training and refresher courses for teachers who might be in a newly-renovated school or a brand-new classroom.
“I think it’s truly becoming a norm nationally, post Sandy Hook, post Columbine, post Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School," Thane said. "I think everybody’s been forced to contemplate security differently, and this is one of the areas of response that I think is important for us to consider."
We also asked about security for those schools that are under construction. All workers have to be identified with a badge or vest, they’ve undergone a background check and have signed a code of conduct. Construction barriers prevent easy access from the work zone to the areas where students are and the schools coordinate with construction teams to make sure that the schools can still perform fire and lockdown drills while work is underway.