MISSOULA - As the nation reels from yet another school shooting, Missoula County Public Schools (MCPS) wants you to know how they're keeping your kids safe.
"Throughout the week our staff is going home and they're both physically and emotionally drained because they're trying to hold things together for kids," said MCPS Superintendent Rob Watson.
He said at times like these, student safety is at the forefront of the school district's mind.
"It's hard. It's just really hard to not personalize this, and I totally understand where parents are coming from because you want your kids safe in a school setting. And I want my kids safe as well."
MCPS sent a note to parents on Wednesday offering resources.
"We have to give grace to our teachers, we also have to give grace to our parents, because as parents we were never trained on how to deal with this sort of thing, and how to talk with kids about it. The most important advice I learned a long time ago was just listen to your kids."
Watson says there are emergency protocols in place, like drills, and safety measures were recently updated after voters approved a 2015 bond. "We updated all of our locks to magnetic locks so we could perform lockdowns much more efficiently from a central location if needed."
Watson says each school has one secure entrance, there are six school resource officers available, and there is a threat assessment process in place if a student exhibits concerning behavior.
"I think all of that helps with school safety. I don't really know what the answer is, though. I mean, I get the feeling that we're at a place in our country where we don't really have an answer for school safety, and that's the frustrating part."
Watson said the school district is also always open to feedback on safety measures from parents.
Read the full email sent to parents below.
Dear MCPS Community;
As you are probably aware, there was a horrific school shooting in Texas yesterday at an elementary school. While the details of this tragedy are still unfolding, it is clear that many lives were lost to a senseless act of gun violence. Our hearts are with the families of those who were killed, and with the staff and community of Uvalde School District.
We know that our staff and students will struggle with their feelings after such tragedies occur. It is important for all of us to acknowledge these feelings of frustration, loss, and grief. Everyone will react differently to this type of secondary trauma. We can help each other by providing grace and understanding during this difficult time.
In an effort to help with this process, we have outlined some guidelines that staff and parents can use to support children and help maintain a sense of safety in our school communities.
The National Association of School Psychologists offers these tips for parents and teachers on talking to children about violence:
- Reassure children that they are safe, and that schools are safe places.
- Make time to talk, and let their questions be your guide as to how much information to provide.
- Keep explanations age-appropriate:
- Review safety procedures at school and at home. Help children identify at least one adult at school to whom they should go if they feel threatened or at risk.
- Observe children’s emotional state. Some children may not express their concerns verbally.
- Limit TV and online viewing of these events.
- Maintain a normal routine.
- Early elementary school: Provide brief, simple information balanced with reassurances that their school and homes are safe and that adults are there to protect them.
- Upper elementary and early middle school: Children this age may have more questions and need more reassurances about what is being done at their school.
- Upper middle school and high school students: Emphasize the role that students play in maintaining safe schools by following school safety guidelines (such as reporting threats to school safety) and communicating any personal safety concerns to school administrators.
Please visit the NASP website for further information: https://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources-and-podcasts/school-safety-and-crisis/school-violence-resources/talking-to-children-about-violence-tips-for-parents-and-teachers.
Also, the American School Counselor Association offers a list of resources for those seeking to help students after a school shooting: https://www.schoolcounselor.org/Publications-Research/Publications/Free-ASCA-Resources/After-a-School-Shooting
Finally, please remember that all of our schools have emergency plans and procedures in place, and that routine drills take place in each school throughout the school year. School safety is our top priority, and we work continuously to provide the safest environment possible for all students and employees.
If you have questions about your school’s security or emergency response plans, please reach out to your school’s principal. Please reach out to your student’s teacher if you feel your student needs access to counseling resources or other support.
Rob Watson, Superintendent,
Missoula County Public Schools