A northeast Minneapolis company is producing what it said is the first bullet-resistant portable room divider designed specifically for rapid deployment in schools.
Versare Solutions on Wednesday unveiled its Portable Shield Partition, which the maker says “can withstand multiple impacts by .44 magnum and 9mm ammunition.”
The company calls the partition a first-of-its-kind product after its research turned up “nothing specifically for schools of this style,” marketing manager Didier Foley said. “There are cubicles for governments, workplaces and banks, but nothing specifically for schools.”
Foley said company leaders had some hesitation about rolling out a product that overtly addresses the problem of school shootings.
“It’s a sensitive topic,” said Foley, who has a 3-year-old daughter and a brother still in high school. “It’s something that is needed, but not something that we wanted [to produce].”
Foley said the folding dividers are visually indistinguishable from the ones Versare has been making for years without the added protection, to avoid having them “look like an armored window. We didn’t want to [create] that level of fear and concern in the classroom.”
Versare said one of the two layers of traditional honeycomb backing on the partition is replaced with a layer of ballistic material, which makes the product “functional and fearless,” a post on the company website reads.
Teachers can use the divider as they usually would — for posting papers or art projects and creating private spaces within a room. Or the rolling partitions, which stand 6 feet 8 inches tall and can be collapsed down to 33 inches wide, can be set off to the side until needed.
“It can be set up in eight to 10 seconds” and reach up to nearly 20 feet wide, Foley said. “Ideally, it’s already being used to separate space. Or it can be sitting in a corner. Slide it out and put it out.”
Gary Amoroso, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, said he’s not familiar with the product, but “if a school district felt it was in the best interest of their students and staff and a good use of resources, so be it.”
Amoroso said that for the nearly 20 years since the Columbine school shooting in Colorado, “the entire conversation has been about maintaining safety. Every time we seen another incident at a school, that anxiety gets notched up.”
Andy Skoogman, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, gave a cautious assessment.
“Our organization is supportive of any product that can help improve safety in our schools,” Skoogman said. “That said, no product is a panacea. Safe schools are predicated on several factors, including — but not limited to — proper emergency operations planning, a commitment to key community partnerships, a priority on antibullying initiatives and school designs that emphasize safety.”
Versare’s new school partition lists for $3,459. Foley said the bullet-resistant material, which has a patent pending, accounts for a large portion of that cost.
He said the company can produce 60 to 70 per day — they come in 24 colors — and ship them for free anywhere in the country.
Versare employs 25 to 30 people making and selling room dividers, cubicle partitions, sound panels and privacy screens.