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Cary-Grove drill simulating school shooting ends

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013 1:30 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013 10:59 a.m. CDT
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(H. Rick Bamman - hbamman@shawmedia.com)
A Cary police officer is stationed at the entrance to Cary-Grove High School during a "Code Red" lockdown exercise Wednesday morning.

A controversial drill has ended at Cary-Grove High School in which blanks from starter pistols were fired to simulate a school shooting.

Some parents complained that shooting off blanks so students became familiar with the sound of gunfire went too far. School District 155 spokesperson Jeff Puma said Wednesday that absenses as a result of the drill were minimal.

Members of the media were not allowed inside the high school during the drill. 

Shortly after 9 a.m. students were given the announcement that the school was in a “code red” lockdown drill. Faculty and Cary law enforcement checked the school to make sure doors were locked and the students were in their appropriate classrooms.

Then a second announcement was read, stating that the starter pistols would be fired. Two school deans, in two different wings of the school, each fired one blank about 9:10 a.m.

“It went in an incredibly orderly fashion,” said Cary Police Chief Steve Casstevens, “That's what we hope for. That's why we practice.”

Cary police were on hand to provide a supportive and observational role, Casstevens said. He added that the drill was important in preparing the students for an actual emergency.

“I suppose it's a sad commentary on society that we have to run drills like this,” Casstevens said. “But the reality is we have to run drills like this. This is the real world. We can't stick our head in the sand. We need to prepare for when real things can happen.”

District 155 Superintendent Jonnie Thomas was also at Cary-Grove Wednesday to observe the drill.

“I think ultimately it's our responsibility to make sure that all of our students are safe and can respond under pressure,” Thomas said. “We need to make sure they have the ability to respond in an appropriate manner. I think this goes a long way in doing that.”

After the drill ended, teachers and students talked about the experience and discussed how students would react in different scenarios, like if they were in the hallway or the computer lab, District 155 Spokesman Jeff Puma said.

Puma added that the parent reaction to the drill was “mixed,” and the school received only a handful of complaints.

“There hasn't been a huge deluge of emails of phone calls,” Puma said. “A lot of the parents were supportive of the drill itself, some disagreed with the firing of the blanks. It's important to have [the sound of gunfire] in your knowledge bank in case you need to react in that situation.”

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CARY – Some parents at Cary-Grove High School say that firing blanks goes too far in a school active-shooter drill.

The high school is scheduled to conduct a "Code Red" lockdown exercise shortly after 9 a.m. today.

School officials are working with Cary police on the simulation and said they plan to fire blanks so students "might be able to recognize the sound and react quickly should an active gunman situation occur," a message on the high school's website says.

A school official will fire several rounds of blanks from a starter pistol – the kind used at sporting events, Cary Police Chief Steven Casstevens said. "The purpose is to take the Code Red drill one step further. There are many [students] who've never heard a gunshot before," he said.

Students will be in locked classrooms when the blanks are fired, district officials said.

"It's going to be a very controlled situation preceded by a PA announcement," District 155 spokesman Jeff Puma said.

"Any step we can take to give them an advantage in a crisis situation is a step we should be taking," he added.

Some parents were outraged the school would consider simulating gunfire in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn.

"They want to familiarize kids with the sound of gunfire, how sick is that?" one parent said.

Other parents feared the sound of gunfire would traumatize their children.

"If you want to teach a Code Red, teach it, but there is no reason to make it feel [real]," said Sharon Miller, a parent of a Cary-Grove freshman. "We have fire drills, but we don't set fires to make it feel more [real]."

The exercise is a sad reality in today's society, Casstevens said, and it's exactly what schools and law enforcement should be teaching.

"Most people recognize fire, but not everyone recognizes the sound of gunshots, and that's the difference," the police chief said.

The Code Red drill will last 15 to 20 minutes and there will be an announcement at the start of the exercise. Teachers will secure students into classrooms and draw the curtains. Cary police officers and school administrators will sweep the building to make sure all students are in classrooms. Four or five officers will participate in the drill, Casstevens said.

A second announcement will alert students that they will hear gunfire.

After the drill, there will be discussion between students and classroom teachers. Social workers also will be available, Puma said.

Parents complained they were not notified about the drill or that blanks would be fired.

The school sent an email that Miller received about 9 p.m. Monday. Puma admitted there were "blips" in the district's communication servers that in some instances sent emails straight to parents' spam folders.

The exercise comes on the heels of rumors in December that a Cary-Grove student planned to bring a gun to the school. A school and police investigation found the rumors to be unsubstantiated, Puma said.

"In this case, it was all rumors," he said. "No one knows where it was started, there were no specific threats tied to it, and, as we know, nothing happened."

Today's drill was planned well before those rumors, Puma said.

The drill is the not the first of its kind for the high school district. Four days after the Newtown,  shooting there was a similar drill at Crystal Lake South High School, and no parents complained, Puma said. Gun blanks were not used in that drill.

Through that drill, South officials learned they had to make adjustments to the school's PA system so students in the loud cafeteria or auditorium could better hear announcements, Puma said.

Last school year, Cary police and Cary-Grove High School officials conducted the drill with gun blanks, but no students were present.

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