Big Sky School Board votes to arm new school marshal
School board unanimous in favor based on insights from local safety study and violence nationwide
By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER
The Big Sky School Board decided unanimously that the new school marshal position will be armed in accordance with concealed carry and peace officer law.
Whether to arm the marshal was an action item discussed during Tuesday afternoon’s board meeting. Board Chair Loren Bough told EBS that while some trustees expressed disappointment in the state of American school security, all board members agreed that the district should take a proactive approach with regards to the safety of students, teachers and staff. The new hire comes as the latest stage in a five-year progression to increase Big Sky’s school safety which included a strict door-locking procedure, upgrading camera and monitor infrastructure, and replacing keys with pin-codes on doors which can be controlled from a central location.
“We haven’t had any specific incidents at the school,” Bough said. “This is just to reflect what’s going on in the rest of the country and reflect what our community wants… We absolutely feel it’s the right thing to do.”
Last March, the school district commissioned a Hazard and Vulnerability Assessment (page 29) to evaluate the safety needs of Big Sky’s campus, which identified a “high risk of weapons on campus” and a “low risk of threats related to terrorist activities.” Bough also estimated that 75% of similar-size schools in Montana have an armed marshal or school resource officer on campus, which the district’s report identified as “high priority.”
The district began interviewing candidates one year ago and hired Matthew Daugherty in late 2022, although the board had not yet determined whether the marshal would carry a firearm on duty. Since Daugherty started three weeks ago, BSSD Superintendent Dustin Shipman told EBS he’s been doing paper and policy work. Bough added that no public funds are being used for the additional position, as it is being funded by charitable donations from the Yellowstone Club Community Foundation.
Daugherty has served in the military, worked as a sheriff’s deputy for 15 years, and is a longtime Big Sky community member “[who] came highly competent and highly, highly recommended,” according to Shipman. Bough said Daugherty “is well-known and well-trusted in the community and has all the proper training… probably a candidate unparalleled in his experience and local involvement.”
The school marshal role will include identifying possible security faults and improving school safety protocols, while operating as a liaison with the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Department.
“This is a five-year progression of improving security on campus,” Bough said. “We’re not done. His job is to find other ways to improve our security.”
“Just knowing that we have somebody on campus whose main responsibility is the safety of our students really is a significant thing in schools today,” Shipman said. “It gives me, as superintendent of the school district, a lot of peace of mind.”
Bough explained that in the past year, BSSD formed an agreement with the sheriff’s department to station a deputy at the school. However, the deputy also responds to local calls and often must leave the school—where he is stationed only on Mondays, Tuesdays and alternate Wednesdays.
“We don’t necessarily live in a community that has a threat of violence,” Bough said. “But we’re accounting for two risks: the randomness of gun violence, and timeliness of a response. It can take more than an hour for a deputy to arrive at the school. It’s proven around the country that that’s a very dangerous amount of time.”
In an incorporated community, he added, a school marshal is often a member of the police department assigned to the campus and typically called a “school resource officer.”
The Bozeman School District has more than 10 school resource officers, Bough said.
Firearm policy discussion
The following was stated in the board meeting minutes (page 110):
“As part of the District safety and emergency plan and protocols adopted in accordance with Policy 8301, the Board has set forth procedures specifying the types of firearms, ammunition, and other related equipment that a school marshal is authorized to possess, carry, and store on public school property.”
Specific policy and procedures will be reviewed and adjusted as needed at the school board’s annual meeting in June.
The board described the “School Marshal” position in writing as “a person who is appointed by the board of trustees and employed or retained by a school district to protect the health and safety of persons and to maintain order on public school property… [acting] only as necessary to prevent or stop the commission of an offense that threatens serious bodily injury or death of persons on public school property.”
Bough pointed out that according to Montana law, the board could arm anyone at the school regardless of their public safety experience and could also keep that information confidential.
“Montana allows [the board] to conduct all of these security procedures in a closed meeting,” he said. “We chose the opposite approach. We chose to keep everything public. All of our decisions have been made in the public domain.”
Tuesday’s board meeting focused on whether the marshal would be armed and included public comment; Bough said about 80% of community members present supported the plan to arm the marshal, while 20% opposed.
In a letter to the board, one opposed community member wrote, “statistically it is much more likely as a school community that we will need to deal with an emergency such as an earthquake, wildfire, or tractor trailer emergency on Highway 191 that prevents us from being able safely evacuate our children than an active shooter situation. While I agree with the idea of preparedness and having an Emergency Operations Plan, trainings that help staff to know how to act in the case of an emergency, and reasonable school building safety physical upgrades, I am not in favor of having an armed full time staff member at the school. I believe this sends the message to young people that we need to deal with the proliferation of guns by having more guns.”
Another community member’s email supported the new role.
“I was always taught and always experienced that our police force is a force for good in our schools, with our businesses, of course our family residences, and in the broader community. [We] fully support having a Resource Officer on campus to protect our children, teachers, families, and visitors,” they wrote.
The third and final email recorded in the meeting minutes stated: “It is reassuring knowing that a qualified, well trained, prepared individual will be present at the school in the unlikely event that we should need him. While we would like to hope that nothing would ever happen at our school, we would be naive to think our school is immune from tragedy. My husband and I have had many conversations with you over the past 7 years about the safety measures (or lack thereof) in place. This is a long overdue step in creating a safer environment for our students and staff.”