Monday, May 14, 2007

Unprofessional Conduct

A Tennessee elementary school administrator and several teachers have been accused of participating in what just might be one of the most tasteless (and possibly unlawful) stunts that have been inflicted on unsuspecting students in recent memory:
MURFREESBORO — Parents of students at a Murfreesboro elementary school are outraged that teachers and an assistant principal staged a phony gun attack on their children, telling them repeatedly it was not a drill, while the children cried and took shelter under tables.

Sixty-nine sixth-grade students from Scales Elementary school were on a weeklong trip at Fall Creek Falls, a state park about 130 miles southeast of Nashville. On Thursday, the last night of the outing, the staff played a prank on the kids, convincing them there was a gunman on the loose.

A teacher wearing a hooded sweatshirt pulled on a locked door, pretending to be a suspicious subject in the area.

The students were told to lie on the floor or crawl underneath tables and keep quiet. The lights went out, and about 20 kids started to cry, 11-year-old Shay Naylor said. Some held hands and shook.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God,’ ” Shay said Saturday afternoon as she recounted the incident. “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.”

Some parents said Saturday they were outraged, especially in light of the April 16 shootings at Virginia Tech that left 33 students and professors dead, including the gunman.

Scales Elementary Principal Catherine Stephens held a meeting Saturday afternoon at the school to discuss the matter with a handful of concerned parents who contacted school officials Friday night.

She said she was saddened by the situation and that the school was handling it, though she declined to elaborate on whether the teachers involved would face disciplinary action.

Assistant Principal Don Bartch, who led the trip, said the entire scenario lasted about five minutes, after which the teachers gathered the students and explained it was a prank.

“We got together and discussed what we would have done in a real situation,” he said.

Several parents said they were troubled by the staff’s poor judgment.

“The children were in that room in the dark, begging for their lives, because they thought there was someone with a gun after them,” said Brandy Cole, whose son went on the trip.

“This was not a good experience,” said Alisha Graves, whose son attended. “Those kids were crying, and they were terrified.”

Brandy Cole said she found out about the incident shortly after her son returned home from the trip Friday afternoon.

“I was shocked,” said Cole, whose husband, Jimmy, immediately sent an e-mail requesting a meeting with Bartch.

Barbara Corbetta, whose child also went to Fall Creek Falls with the group, said she spoke to several different parents and kept hearing the same details — kids on the floor crying and begging for their lives.

“The circumstance that occurred involved poor judgment,” Stephens said. “My hope is that we can learn from this, and in the end, it will have a positive result of growth for all of us.”

Shay and her mother, Niki Morris, said they forgave the teachers and wanted to move on. It “went too far because it was too gruesome,” Shay said. “You’d think a teacher wouldn’t do it, but they did. But they’re great teachers. If (the assistant principal) loses his job, I will break into tears. He’s the best assistant principal I’ve ever had.”

Kathryn Sherrod, a Midstate psychologist who works with children, said she can see how kids could be traumatized by this, especially in light of the Virginia Tech shootings.

“That’s too close to real,” she said. “It’s important for teachers and school administrators to realize they have a degree of trust with children. When you play a prank of that nature, you run the risk of losing that trust.”
Given the school-related gun violence of the past few years, what on Earth could those nitwits people have been thinking?

Update: (PM) Two knuckleheads school employees (assistant principal Don Bartch and teacher Quentin Masters) have already been suspended and will soon be candidates to receive a Darwin Award in Education.

Other Voices: Joanne Jacobs.
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