NASHVILLE, Tenn. — If you're going to play a prank on a group of sixth-grade students, the last thing you want to do is warn them that a gunman is on the loose. This is sure to evoke deep-seated fears and prompt widespread panic in the wake of recent school shootings.
Yet that's exactly what a group of teachers decided to do last week during an overnight visit to a state park in Tennessee.
"The lead teacher told the students and other adults that there were people somewhere in the park shooting guns but they were not shooting people; they were driving around playing," Scales Elementary School says in a statement posted on its website. "He added that the Park Ranger had advised him to tell everyone to take cover as a precaution."
Then, while the 69 children were crying and cowering on the floor, "a teacher wearing a hooded sweatshirt pulled on a locked double door, pretending to be a suspicious subject in the area," according to The Daily News Journal, a Gannett newspaper.
The prank outraged some parents and students. “I was like, ‘Oh my God,’” Shay Naylor, 11, tells the local paper. “At first I thought I was going to die. We flipped out. (A teacher) told us, ‘We just got a call that there’s been a random shooting.’ I was freaked out. I thought it was serious.”
The assistant principal who was in charge of the trip tells the Associated Press that the mock attack was intended to be a learning experience for the students. But the school, led by a graduate of Virginia Tech, has apologized to the parents. The principal says the prank "involved poor judgment."
"Clearly, there are many versions of this situation and the coverage has been sensationalized," the school says in its statement. "Regardless of the versions, this prank crossed the line in what would be appropriate to tell young children, especially in light of recent incidents."
Brandy Cole, the mother of a student, tells CNN the statement "is full of half-truths and just incorrect statements."
"We trusted these people and they're calling this an educational drill and saying that it was a planned thing," Cole says. "If this was a planned thing they should have told us about it ... They could have gotten the parents' permission."
The school's motto: It's always about the children!
Copyright 2007 USA Today
Tenn. teachers stage prank with fake gunman