Monday, February 06, 2023

Surplus should aid school security needs

by Daily Inter Lake
| August 7, 2022 12:00 AM

As the systemic failures and oversights surrounding the mass shooting at Uvalde, Texas have come to light in recent months, many have been left wondering: How secure are Northwest Montana’s schools, and what more can be done to ensure such a tragedy never happens here?

Thankfully, local school officials have taken prompt action this summer in analyzing those exact questions.

Through the assistance of a remarkable $60,000 private fundraising effort, seven local school districts — Evergreen, Kalispell, Kila, Troy, West Glacier, West Valley and Whitefish — have collaborated to hire a consulting firm to conduct individual security assessments. Once complete, the reports will provide a full-scale evaluation of physical security measures in place at each school building, along with corresponding procedures within the district.

More than likely, the report will reveal some sizable discrepancies between each district.

Schools constructed within the last decade have been designed with active-shooter scenarios in mind. They include strategic double entrances, automatic locks and other robust features intended to stop an attack.

At many older schools, however, “You just walk in,” notes Emily Sallee, director of the University of Montana Safe Schools Center.

Having a professional assessment on hand that pinpoints each district’s strengths and weaknesses is an important first step in shoring up security flaws that could save lives.

The next step — and it’s a big one — is finding the funds to put corrective measures in place.

Building remodels, technology upgrades and school resource officers come at a cost. And for rural schools constantly scrounging for enough dollars to meet minimum standards, an additional budgetary line item is simply unreasonable.

As the state Legislature considers what to do with a more than $1 billion budget surplus in the upcoming session, aiding Montana’s school security needs should rank high on the priority list.

State grant programs could be created to help fund critical school resource officer positions, as well as active-shooter response training and necessary building and technology upgrades.

Federal funding through the bipartisan Safer Communities Act — passed following the Uvalde shooting — is another opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.

With security assessments in hand, Northwest Montana schools will be well positioned to apply for and utilize these dollars efficiently and effectively.

Kudos to the community leaders who have taken a proactive position in analyzing school security needs. Let’s hope state legislators take that same aggressive approach in ensuring the funding is available to keep our schools safe and secure.

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