Parents outraged over teachers' prank school shooting
By JAIME SARRIO
Elementary school students on a field trip had been told to expect a "campfire prank" by the teachers, but a tale of a gunman on the loose went too far, the Murfreesboro, Tenn. school system said in a statement.
Sixty-nine sixth-grade students from Scales Elementary were told Thursday during a field trip to Fall Creek Falls that someone was shooting in the park and they should lie on the floor or crawl underneath tables and keep quiet.
Parents met at the school over the weekend to discuss the incident, which frightened many of the children and brought some to tears.
According to a statement released late Sunday by the district, the students had been anticipating a prank such as had been done to previous sixth-grade campers. Most of the students, the statement said, stood up after the trick, exchanged high fives and said, "That was a good one. Yeah, you got me."
Some parents were outraged, especially in light of the April 16 shootings at Virginia Tech that left 33 students and professors dead, including the gunman.
The district conceded that the prank crossed the line in light of recent incidents but stated that there were many versions of the story and news coverage of the hoax had been sensationalized.
Several Murfreesboro City Schools board members said Sunday that the phony attack was foolish and an error in judgment.
But they said they trust the director of schools, Marilyn Mathis, to decide what action — if any — should be taken against teachers and an assistant principal who staged the prank.
"I'm not sure punishment is even the right word," said Nancy Phillips, a board member who knows the assistant principal involved. "I think they need to take the appropriate action, but I don't think they need to overreact."
Board member Lon Nuell said the incident was very unfortunate and immature, but he will leave it to Mathis to make the call on how those involved should be dealt with.
"It was a very foolish thing for adults to do to children," he said. "Telling ghost stories is one thing, but carrying it as far as they did was a pretty big error in judgment."
Scales Elementary Principal Catherine Stephens did not return calls made to her home Sunday. She held a meeting Saturday afternoon at the school to discuss the matter with a handful of concerned parents, but declined to elaborate on whether the teachers involved would face disciplinary action.
Board member Patrick McCarthy said that the incident should be handled with care and sensitivity and that the administration should work hard to get all sides of the story.
"You have to hire the right people and them let them do their job," he said.
Assistant Principal Don Bartch, who led the trip, said Saturday that 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."
Eleven-year-old Shay Naylor said she and her classmates were scared. "I was like, 'Oh my God,' " she said. "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."
Totally inappropriate and in bad taste and poor judgement but at the same time kind of hilarious