WASHINGTON, October 18, 2013—Parents of children at a Wayne County, North Carolina middle school responded angrily after learning that a school staff member wore a mask and brandished a toy gun as part of a school lesson last Friday.
In what Eastern Wayne Middle School administrators are calling a citizenship “enrichment exercise” to teach students awareness of their surroundings, students were told that an armed robber was inside the school. A masked staff member holding a fake gun then pretended to rob the children by taking an item from a desk in several classrooms.
Some students recognized the school employee and laughed about it, but others did not and went home crying, according to WRAL, a local news outlet.
“It obviously did lack that sensitivity that was needed…all of our schools work very hard to promote a safe learning environment,” Ken Derksen, Public Information Officer at Wayne County Public Schools said to a local news channel. “In this situation, the exercise in its original intent was appropriate, but in how it was executed it obviously lacked judgment.”
In a letter to the parents on Monday, Catherine Fulcher, the school principal, wrote that students were promptly informed that the situation was not real and just part of a lesson.
“Even though play-acting caused some initial concerns, once the skit was completed, the teachers quickly explained who the person was and that the theft was not real,” wrote Fulcher.
A new trend?
Eastern Wayne Middle School is not the first to hold a realistic surprise drill. Last year a school in El Paso, Texas held a surprise lockdown simulation with gunshots and screaming, as students hid in classrooms and storerooms, according to the New York Daily News.
Earlier this year, an Oregon school staged a surprise attack where masked men, played by other faculty members, shot at 15 teachers.
Similar surprise realistic drills have been held in several schools around the country, including a suburban Chicago school, a school in Indiana and one in New York City that was so realistic that one teacher called police.
Not surprisingly, as schools scramble to prevent and prepare for another shooting tragedy, training schools to be ready for these situations has become a lucrative business. Companies and consultants in this area often employ individuals with military and law enforcement backgrounds.
As the Daily News reports, training can cost upwards of $2,500 per one-day session.
Some companies employ planned lockdown drills, which are intended to be as realistic as possible, but planned and announced. Others use “no-notice mobilizations” or surprise drills to test a school emergency plan’s vulnerabilities.
After several parents complained about last Friday’s “enrichment exercise,” Wayne County school administrators admitted that there was probably a better way to teach their students that particular lesson.
According to Wayne County Public Schools, there is an ongoing investigation into the matter and the staff member who played the robber may face disciplinary action.
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