Cammie DeCastro, principal of the Pine Eagle Charter School in Halfway, Ore., admits that the plan she had to protect her school from an armed gunman is in tatters after two masked men stormed in and appeared to open fire on a meeting room full of teachers last Friday, The Oregonian reports.
Luckily, the bullets were blanks, the gunmen were school staffers, students were not in the building that day, and the whole thing was a drill. But the teachers were surprised.
If the exercise had been real, teacher Morgan Gover told the newspaper, only two of her colleagues would have survived. She said she was "shot" several times in the back and chest.
Pine Eagle Charter's drill is similar to that of other schools across the country, conducted with perhaps greater urgency in the wake of the recent Sandy Hook massacre. While a national debate raged over gun control and whether teachers should arm themselves, a man stood in a hallway of Cary-Grove High School in Chicago on Jan. 30, firing blanks from a starter pistol as teachers scrambled to secure their rooms and students ducked under their desks, according to FOX 32. NPR member station KLCC reported that helicopters were going to land outside Elmira High School in Oregon to transport fake victims of an active-shooter drill scheduled for April 27.
In El Paso, Texas, screams and gunshots bounced through the hallways of Eastlake High School on May 22 of last year, as an act of terror was simulated without a warning to students, staff or parents.
KFOX 14 reported that students fired off text messages to their parents. Stephanie Belcher told the news station she received a message that read, “I'm not kidding. There's gunshots and people screaming and we were locked in a storage closet."
Parents' opinions are split on whether schools are wisely responding to the threat of real danger or overreacting to past tragedies with productions so realistic that an actual theater would have hidden that violence offstage.
Cary-Grove parent Kelly Wright told FOX 32 that the school's "code red" drill is too much. "I think they can hold a drill without doing that. I think that there is going to be a lot of emotional trauma with the kids," she said.
School officials, however, have defended their drills, arguing that high-stress tests can more accurately identify flaws in emergency response plans.
Jeff Puma, a spokesman for the school district overseeing Cary-Grove, told the news station that kids should know what live rounds sound like so they can respond appropriately if a real shooter ever shows up.
For DeCastro, fake was real enough, according to The Oregonian, and the drill convinced her that prior drills had been insufficient.
"For us not to know how we were going to respond is leaving us open," she told the newspaper.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said shots fired in Pine Eagle Charter School's drill were rubber bullets.