While New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Thursday that the country would ban semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles in response to the horrific mass shootings at two mosques in the country, this week we learned how one elementary school in Monticello, Indiana responded to our country’s mass shooting problem: by holding an active-shooter training exercise that ended up injuring teachers after they were shot in the back by plastic pellets.
The incident occurred in January, and was publicly revealed on Wednesday during testimony in front of the state’s legislature:
The Indianapolis Star tracked down two elementary school teachers who confirmed what happened. They “described an exercise in which teachers were asked by local law enforcement to kneel down against a classroom wall before being sprayed across their backs with plastic pellets without warning.” Sounds more like an execution than a teacher training exercise to me, but what do I know!
Here’s what one of them told the Star:
“They told us, ‘This is what happens if you just cower and do nothing,’” said one of the two teachers, both of whom asked IndyStar not to be identified out of concern for their jobs. “They shot all of us across our backs. I was hit four times.
“It hurt so bad.”
And here’s another account (it’s unclear if it’s the same teacher quoted above, as both requested anonymity):
One of the teachers said she was waiting in the library with her colleagues as the first small group of teachers was led into a classroom for that first session.
“The firsts group went in and we heard them scream and yell,” she said. “We thought, ‘What is going on?’”
The group came back out and whispered a warning to the next group — the officers had told them not to tell their colleagues what had happened — but she still wasn’t expecting what came next.
“It was like a quick spew of those pellets,” she said. “Most of us got hit several times in our backs.”
That teacher told the Star that “she had welts and one spot where the pellet broke her skin,” leaving a scab for weeks.
The White County Sheriff’s department led the training at Meadowlawn Elementary School, which used what’s known as the ALICE approach. ALICE stands for “Alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate,” and its approach to active-shooters, which has been heavily criticized, recommends that teachers and students in certain situations try to take down a shooter. As the Star rather dryly notes, “Shooting teachers with plastic pellets is not typically part of the training.” According to one of the teachers, another part of the training included one in which “an officer pretending to be an active shooter shot the airsoft gun while teachers hid under desks and were given tennis balls to throw at him until he stopped shooting.”
Sheriff Bill Brooks defended his department’s use of what’s called an airsoft gun, which shoots plastic pellets that are 4.6 mm in diameter, as part of the exercise.
“It’s a soft, round projectile,” he told the Star. “The key here is ‘soft.’”
His office no longer uses the airsoft gun. “We were made aware that one teacher was upset. And we ended it,” Brooks said.
Still, the teachers union is concerned enough—rightfully so!—about a similar incident happening again that it’s now lobbying Indiana lawmakers to prevent future teachers from being shot with ammunition. They’re pushing for lawmakers to include an amendment prohibiting the practice as part of a school safety bill currently up for debate.
Gail Zeheralis, the director of government relations for the Indiana State Teachers Association, testified on Wednesday: “What we’re looking for is just a simple statement in this bill that would prohibit the shooting of some type of projectile at staff in an active shooter drill.”
Teachers already have to deal with enough. I can’t believe I even need to write this, but getting shot with a gun, however “soft” the bullets are, during a training exercise should not be one of them!