Superintendent Arntzen: State gov. can’t prevent school shootings by itself

HELENA – After Wednesday’s deadly shooting in Florida, state leaders are looking at their policies regarding school emergencies.

Montana state law has relatively few requirements for schools with regard to emergency preparations. Schools are required to “identify disaster risks” and adopt a school safety plan.

Schools also must have eight disaster drills per school year, but it’s up to individual districts to decide what qualifies as a “hazard” that “exists within the boundaries of its school district.”

That means drills could be conducted for anything from fires to earthquakes to active shooter situations, depending on what administrators decide.

The Montana Office of Public Instruction – the organization that schools must report their emergency plans to – said they are taking the events in Florida seriously but are hesitant to require schools to take more precautions.

“It’s not up to just the state coming in and being the panacea. It is left up to the local school boards and that is something we hold really dear in Montana is local control. [Schools] are given grand powers and large powers when it comes to their local schools,” OPI Superintendent Elsie Arntzen said.

Arntzen said her office is largely an adviser to local school districts, and will help develop emergency plans for schools but will not force schools to make changes.

The Superintendent left the door open for a bit more regulation, suggesting that OPI could require schools to have certain types of emergency drills, rather than letting the schools decide.

The superintendent also said her office is focused on mental health in an effort to prevent incidents like the one in Florida from happening.

In a statement to MTN News, OPI Federal Policy and Media Assistant Dylan Klapmeier said “OPI will continue to make resources available to local communities, engage in conversations about what we can do better, and ultimately empower local districts to use their authority to implement what works best for their communities.”