How realistic should active-shooter trainings be?
Not as lifelike as a drill at an Indiana elementary school in January, according to teachers there, whose union says they were shot with plastic pellets that caused welts, cuts and bruises.
The teachers’ experience at Meadowlawn Elementary School in Monticello, Ind., was detailed by a representative from their union in testimony before state legislators this week. The union was promoting a provision that would bar trainers from shooting school staff members or students with any kind of projectile during safety drills.
During the active-shooter drill, “four teachers at a time were taken into a room, told to crouch down and were shot execution style with some sort of projectiles — resulting in injuries to the extent that welts appeared, and blood was drawn,” the union, the Indiana State Teachers Association, wrote on Twitter during the hearing.
“The teachers were terrified, but were told not to tell anyone what happened,” the union said. “Teachers waiting outside that heard the screaming were brought into the room four at a time and the shooting process was repeated.”
The teachers have not been publicly identified, and none have spoken on the record about their experience.
One teacher, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said trainers fired pellet guns at the teachers during several training exercises, not just the execution-style shooting. But in other exercises “you were allowed to try to not get hit,” she said in a phone interview on Friday.
She said the teachers were not told they were going to be shot before the execution-style shooting exercise began, and the trainers did not ask the teachers about their medical histories before subjecting them to physical force.
“It hurt really bad,” said the woman, who said she was left with bruises, welts and bleeding cuts that took almost two weeks to heal. “You don’t know who you are shooting and what types of experience those individuals had in the past, whether they had PTSD or anything else. And we didn’t know what we were going into.”
She described the training as frightening, painful and insulting.
“What makes it more outrageous is they thought we would need to have that experience of being shot to take this seriously,” she said. “When I thought about it that way, I really started to get angry. Like we are not professionals. It felt belittling.”
Dan Holub, the executive director of the Indiana State Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, said that teachers recognized the need for safety training but that the risks of venturing so far into realism outweighed the benefits.
“We need to use common sense — and not use these extreme methods of training,” he said.
The provision that the union is pushing for is an amendment to a school safety bill that would require schools to conduct annual active-shooter drills. The bill would also provide schools with funding for school resource officers and mental health services. It has passed the House and is now in the Senate.
The author of the House bill, Representative Wendy McNamara, who is also a high school principal, said it was based on the recommendations of a task force authorized by the governor to examine school safety practices after the Parkland, Fla., shooting.
She said that she learned of the drill only after her bill passed, but that she would work with colleagues to try to add appropriate language to protect teachers during safety drills.
“You can only assume that people would want to be reasonable and put those protections in,” she said. “And if not, then I’ll find a way to make sure that happens.”
Mr. Holub, whose organization represents 40,000 educators from kindergarten to 12th grade across the state, said it was the first time he had heard of such injuries during a safety drill. He added that he believed the police officers carrying out the exercise had gone beyond the prescribed curriculum of the training.
The White County Sheriff’s Office, which conducted the drill, did not respond to a request for comment. The sheriff, Bill Brooks, told The Indianapolis Star that his officers would not use the pellets during teacher trainings anymore.
The Twin Lakes School Corporation, which oversees Meadowlawn and four other schools in or near Monticello, about 90 minutes north of Indianapolis, issued a statement on Thursday about the training.
The corporation said that it routinely teamed up with the sheriff’s office to run safety drills, including “ALICE training,” which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate. After teachers voiced concern about the training, the corporation met with them and the sheriff’s office to discuss the matter, the statement said.
The ALICE trainings were developed by a private company after the Columbine shooting in 1999 and are now used in schools around the country.
ALICE trainings have been criticized at times for their approach, which encourages countering — if there is no way to escape — in order to distract and disrupt a gunman.
In a statement, the ALICE Training Institute said that its methods “empower individuals to participate in their own survival in the face of violence.”
The statement said that the institute has tens of thousands of certified instructors across the country, and said that local agencies were best positioned to adapt the trainings to an institution or community’s needs.
“ALICE training provides proactive response options to increase survivability,” the statement said.
While school security has become a huge growth industry, experts caution that there is a scarcity of research about which tactics are most appropriate. Debates have erupted over arming teachers, the usefulness of metal detectors and best practices during unthinkable scenarios.
“I’m not sure that one mock example of this would ever prepare anyone for what occurs during a true active-shooting situation,” Mr. Holub said.