A Pennsylvania school district faced backlash after a video of an active shooter drill was shared on social media that allegedly depicted a volunteer teacher wearing a keffiyeh, a traditional Middle Eastern headdress. Many social media users and alumni of the Penn-Trafford School District dubbed it as "racist.” However, the company who conducted the exercise says it was a misunderstanding.
In the video — which is viewable via TribLive — which was filmed in January during an in-service day for staff, a man wearing a purple garment on his head holds his hands up to responding officers. The video also shows the actor firing a fake handgun and shotgun at fake victims.
Actors respond to the fake active shooter by throwing plastic cups and other items at him, while others hit him from behind with long pieces of foam.
John Sakoian, who runs Command Excellence, a company that provides active shooter training as well as crisis safety consulting, told TribLive that the volunteer teacher was not meant to play the active shooter.
"That individual was to go role play in a different scenario that we never ran, and he prematurely got into costume that was not approved and got inadvertently swept up in the first scenario," Sakoian said. "But myself and [superintendent] Dr. [Matthew] Harris never approved that, and it was totally accidental that this thing happened."
According to a statement released by Penn-Trafford School District, the two teachers who volunteered to appear as active shooters, both who had experience handling firearms, were given costumes by Command Excellence to make them unrecognizable by their co-workers.
"This unofficial release of the video has caused some in the community to question the District's actions in performing the drill... the active shooter drill conducted at PT did not intend to represent any particular culture or religion as the shooters," the statement reads. "Screen captures of the video shared on social media fail to show the full costume worn by the volunteer. The individual wore a long blonde wig with a scarf tied around his head and a paintball/tactical mask over his face. He was dressed in a dark zip-up sweatshirt and dark pants. There was no intent by the District, police department or consultant as part of the training to provide an identity to the volunteers as anything other than an active shooter."
Penn Township police Chief John Otto told TribLive: "I'm at a loss and somewhat disappointed that folks would take a training situation where our intents were real and honest and twist them into a situation that maybe they're looking for. But other than that, I'm not going to spend a whole lot of time on it."
Still, many voiced their displeasure over the incident on social media.
this was my high school. This is unacceptable. https://t.co/wzHaFTtFld— Alicia McElhaney (@AliciaMcElhaney) May 15, 2019
Not only is the Penn Trafford school shooting video racist, but the plan is apparently to combat an AR-15 with pool noodles. What a waste of tax payer money. These “security firms” turn fear into cash. pic.twitter.com/87T1j6kdJB— 𝗝𝗮𝘀 (@j_a155) May 15, 2019
They shouldn't have realistic drills with fake assailants/shooting. It is traumatic for students. And that's aside from the fact that I can't remember the last time a school shooter wore ANY disguise, and they are nearly all young white men. This is moronic on so many levels.— Karen Beaudway (@beaudwayk) May 16, 2019
"The drill's purpose was to practice the District's emergency response procedures and to build confidence in the staff members' awareness of how to respond to an emergency," the statement shared on Penn-Trafford School District's website read. “It is essential for schools to prepare for emergencies well in advance and to practice skills they may need to initiate in an active shooter situation.”
The statement continued: "PT prides itself on instilling respect for others, in its students and staff and has conducted numerous trainings on cultural diversity. The District strongly believes in diversity and inclusion and strives to provide its students an educational environment reflective of the world community. PT students are empowered to be their authentic selves and value others."
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