As the debate swirls around arming instructors with guns, Bitterroot teachers have undergone training on how everyday items can be used to protect students in case of an active shooter scenario.
While they’re not deadly forces – like a gun – they’re all weapons. One Bitterroot instructor keeps a fire extinguisher near his desk. Another has a can of wasp spray nearby. A third has a baseball bat.
Corvallis Superintendent Tim Johnson said staff did not originally sign up for this kind of training when they chose to work in education, but that is the reality.
“We have the mindset that, ‘We are the first responders’ to lunatic active threats, natural disasters, and medical emergencies,” Johnson said. “No matter the active threat methods, public schools are a densely populated, low-resistance site working with our greatest gifts … our children.”
In light of the Florida school shooting last week and the social media threats to Darby and Stevensville schools this week, safety for students at school is a heightened concern.
In the valley, some schools have been on alert, made extra counseling efforts, sent letters to parents, and increased law enforcement presence. All valley schools have had active shooter training and do regular safety drills.
Many have a full-time School Resource Officer who does carry a gun, serves as a law enforcement presence and is visible at all fire alarms and drills.
Staff has been trained how to protect their students, evacuate them, and reunite them with their parents in a natural disaster, mechanical, or active threat.
Corvallis has improved its communication equipment for immediate conversation with the sheriff's office and has received training to reduce response times.
“Corvallis, like all districts in the valley, is responding to the ever-changing methods and training required to maintain a safe, positive school environment,” Johnson said. “As an instructor and superintendent, I believe Ravalli County is dramatically more prepared than we were five years ago and yet this is an ever-evolving issue that requires our attention and efforts.”
On Monday, Hamilton Superintendent Tom Korst sent out “Bronc Nation News” to the Hamilton community, saying the Hamilton School District takes safety and security seriously.
“As unfortunate events unfold around us, I think it is always helpful to recognize and reinforce proactive measures that are under way in our school district,” Korst said.
He listed some of the current measures in place to ensure that students have a safe and productive learning environment, including entrance security, training, procedures and background checks. The school holds a full-scale emergency drill each year with a variety of scenarios, including a broken power line on school property, an active shooter, and a bomb threat. Staff has practiced exiting students from the building, transporting them to a different location and reuniting them with parents and guardians.
“I believe our best support system is the culture of our school and community,” Korst said. “We need to stay connected with each other to better recognize issues and provide proactive assistance when it is needed.”
Korst encourages staff and students to say something when they see something, which is becoming a common mantra.
Stevensville Superintendent Bob Moore said his school continues to improve safety.
“Unfortunately, our district facilities were not designed with the current threats schools sometimes experience at the forefront,” Moore said. “We have implemented active shooter training, electronic door locks, and have limited the number of doors allowing access to the schools and classrooms. We work to limit access and control the constant traffic between many of our instructional buildings.”
Moore said bond initiatives include significant safety improvements to the elementary and high school buildings including visible entries that “lock off” from the student areas and electronic swipe door locks to limit access.
Moore is reluctant to share many of the safety details, but added that students deserve to learn in a safe and caring environment with community support.
“Our biggest asset in these instances are the staff and students who build caring relationships and provide notice to staff and law enforcement when they believe the safety of anyone is threatened,” Moore said.
On Friday, the Stevensville School District had law enforcement officers on campus and a closed campus at lunch. Stevensville police arrested a student on a felony charge of intimidation after allegedly making threatening statements toward other students and staff, according to Stevensville Police Chief James Marble.
It follows the arrest of a Darby High School student on Monday, who allegedly posted social media threats, and a second post Tuesday that allegedly targeted Darby students but was made from California.
Darby Superintendent Loyd Rennaker said his school will work to get students more involved in "If you see something, say something."
“We will work more diligently to include our students in the emergency response mindset,” Rennaker said. “We are learning a lot and appreciate all the ideas and suggestions.”
Victor Superintendent Lance Pearson said recent valley incidents are alarming.
“First and foremost, I must say while our hearts go out to the Darby community, we also understand a group of people in Darby made the right choices,” Pearson said. “While ‘Darby student’ might be splashed across local front pages, it is imperative we remember this is the way it is supposed to happen. This is the preferred outcome.”
Pearson said there have not been any significant changes in Victor since the Florida school shooting.
“We are just being a little more vigilant in our efforts to connect with students and remind them that if they ‘see something, say something,’” Pearson said. “Whatever the subject matter, our teachers, coaches, paraprofessionals, and administrators strive to build positive relationships with all students and we pride ourselves on this ability.”
Florence Superintendent Bud Scully said his school district has made practical changes, including installing security cameras.
Lone Rock Superintendent Scott Stiegler said his K-8 school has a closed campus with one secure entrance.
“It's critical for people to be vigilant and aware of their surroundings,” Stigler said. “We remind everyone ‘If you see something, say something.’ It's far better to follow-up on a report and find that it's nothing, than to deal with the aftermath of a bad situation.”