Parents outraged over unannounced active shooter drill

Short Pump Middle School (Source: Henrico Public Schools)
Short Pump Middle School (Source: Henrico Public Schools)
Published: Jun. 1, 2018 at 3:09 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 1, 2018 at 5:09 PM EDT
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SHORT PUMP, VA (WWBT) - Some parents of students at Short Pump Middle School are angry after an unannounced active shooter drill that happened on Tuesday, May 29.

April Sullivan has a student at SPMS. She said this drill was apparently done differently than those in the past as teachers and students were not informed that it was in fact a drill.

"My child was terrified, she feared for her life," said Sullivan. "Her classmates were crying, praying and playing dead believing they were about to be confronted by someone with a gun. Her teacher was shaking and crying from fear. I had to go home after work and comfort my daughter from the trauma she experienced from being led to believe she and her classmates were about to be shot."

Sullivan says the drill was called over the P.A. as a real situation, fire alarms were pulled and people were sent to classroom doors to make loud noises.

Her daughter, Katie, an eighth-grader, said her school usually has unannounced active shooter drills, however they quickly tell the students that it's a drill.

"We've had active shooter drills before of course and they've never been quite like this," Katie Sullivan said. "Usually our teachers and the staff know about them  so once our authority figure starts freaking out we're going to freak out."

Around 2 p.m. Tuesday, Katie was in her social studies class when a "code blue alert" went over the P.A. system.

"We all assume it's probably just a drill but then the fire alarm goes off and then the fire alarm goes off after that and then they come over the intercom and tell us again to get down and that it's a single blue again," Sullivan said.

She said no where during that time they were told it's a drill. Katie and her classmates ran to a corner of the classroom. She says some kids played dead, others were crying and her frightened teacher began barricading the door. Katie sent a text message to her mom saying, "I love you guys."

"I thought I was probably going to die that day," Sullivan said. "We hear the door handle jiggling  up and down and then we see the door open and it's our recourse officer telling us it's a drill."

NBC12's safety expert Mike Jones echoed Sullivan's thoughts. Unannounced drills are OK he says when everyone in the school knows it is in fact a drill, otherwise there could be an unwanted outcome.

"What if I was a parent who had a gun?" Sullivan said. "And I went to the school thinking there was a shooter in the school and I shot my way into the school somehow?"

Henrico County Public Schools spokesperson Andy Jenks said "unannounced safety drills are nothing new. These drills have been conducted for years, and this is the third year that schools are required by the school division's Office of School Safety and Emergency Management to conduct at least one 'signal blue hide and lock' drill without announcing it in advance."

The school posted on Twitter after the event that "All teachers and students conducted themselves wonderfully" during the drill.

Jones said he doesn't know much about the preparation that went into Henrico County School District's unannounced active shooter drill, but he did say you generally shouldn't do unannounced shooter drills unless you have previous training.

Jones said he is often concerned with unannounced active shooter drills as you don't know how people will react.

"What if a student has a gun in their backpack? What if an adult pulls into the school when the drill is going on and that person is armed?" said Jones.

Jones says drills have to be carefully choreographed with many people monitoring it.

"You have people panicked, stress reactions, and when you put that type of pressure on people and it's strong pressure, the learning day is gone," Jones said. "These things can go bad very quickly if they aren't properly done."

Jones said he isn't a big believer in unannounced drills.

"You might have people imagining Parkland or Columbine in their heads," Jones said. "You might have people picking up rocks or even having a heart attack."

Jenks said unannounced drills are done to "truly determine the readiness of a school, the specific dates and times of a drill are not communicated in advance."

Jones said this is a learning moment for HCPS and family and parents should talk to their children in the event of an active shooter whether it is a drill or not.

"We realize Tuesday's drill at Short Pump Middle School may have seemed too real to some students, and we are sorry this occurred," Jenks said. "We have shared with families that our intent is never to cause unnecessary anxiety."

In the future, Jenks said the school can make an announcement to students and families "within one minute of a drill beginning."

"We hope this will minimize unnecessary stress while also preparing our schools to be safe in the event of an emergency," he said.

State guidelines say drills may be announced or unannounced and that unannounced drills may be more effective.

"Unannounced drills may be more effective than announced drills since they add a component of realism," according to the 2016 Virginia Educator's Guide for Planning and Conducting School Emergency Drills.

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