WHITEFISH – A few months ago, Whitefish Middle School added a 10-foot glass barrier to the front of their school.
Principal Josh Branstetter tells MTN this new barrier is designed to keep students and visitors separate, until the visitor checks in with the front office. Once the visitor checks in, a copy of their driver’s license is kept on file so in case of an emergency faculty will know where they are.
The barrier was built with money from the school’s TIF (Tax Increment Financing) budget.
Branstetter has been with the Whitefish School District for seven years and tells MTN that just within the past five he’s seen a drastic increase in emphasis on school security. According to the FBI, between 2000 and 2017, 20 percent of active shootings involved schools.
“I would say within the last five years it’s really increased, the awareness of school safety. When the building was finished in 2006, we’d have no idea we’d be putting in this extra barrier of security,” said Branstetter.
Branstetter tells MTN the barrier was built with students and faculty in mind. It was designed to fit in seamlessly with the front office.
“There is a barrier to it that makes it shatterproof so, if an object were to be thrown at it wouldn’t just shatter to the bottom, it would hold together. It’s not bullet proof, still welcoming and fits the design of what we have inside,” says Branstetter.
Columbia Falls Superintendent Steve Bradshaw tells MTN that Whitefish isn’t the only school adding security measures. Some parts of Columbia Falls schools are over 50 years old and have open hallways, numerous doors and windows, making it unsafe in an active shooter scenario.
“We’re looking at ways to section off different parts of our building, that once you get into the building, if we hit a button we’d have doors that could come down and secure the other parts of the building,” Bradshaw says.
The Columbia Falls district will look into this remodel if the district’s $34 million bond gets passed this coming fall.
Both Branstetter and Bradshaw say it’s better to be safe than sorry. Whitefish middle and high schools are looking to add barriers similar to the one in the middle school.
Story by Maren Siu, MTN News