A California principal is on leave amid a district investigation into an unauthorized active shooter drill that left students as young as 4 years old “really upset.”
Nina Denson, principal of Washington Elementary in San Gabriel, held an active shooter drill on Wednesday in which parents and staff claim she pretended to shoot students, leaving seven “dead,” KTLA reports.
“She proceeded to walk around campus and pretend to shoot people she saw using finger movements and banging on windows,” parent Jennifer Chavez told the news site. “From what I heard, she said to one of the students, ‘Boom. You’re dead.”
Parents said Denson made an announcement after the drill, claiming seven children were dead.
“Can you imagine the trauma these children potentially could go through just thinking, ‘Oh my God, my friend was killed’ or ‘I was shot and told I died,’” parent Anna Bustamante said. “At the young age that these children are, it was very upsetting.”
Chavez said the incident had a big impact on her 6-year-old son.
“Oh he was really upset,” she said. “The one shocking, surprising thing he said as a 6-year-old was, ‘I’m just really glad none of my friends died.’”
San Gabriel Unified School District Superintendent Jim Symonds told the media the drill was not authorized, Los Angeles Magazine reports.
“This type of drill where a scenario was run is not approved by the district nor part of our district protocol,” Symonds said.
District officials reiterated that point in an email to parents about Denson’s removal. Denson was assigned to Washington Elementary last fall.
“After the initial investigation, the District determined that the drill did not appear to be conducted in line with either District guidance or recommended best practices,” read the letter, cited by KABC.
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“As the District conducts a thorough investigation of what happened, the principal will be on a leave of absence for the duration of the review,” it continued. “Ms. Katie Ingram, teacher at Washington Elementary, has agreed to serve as the Administrative Designee in the principal’s absence. Ms. Ingram has served in the District for 19 years, including service as the lead teacher at Washington.
“Since the investigation is ongoing, the District cannot comment further on what happened on Wednesday.”
Officials told KTLA they’re now dealing with the fallout, with both upset students and staff, by bringing in counselors for those who need them.
Some parents, meanwhile, are hoping Denson won’t return.
“I don’t want her back here at all,” Chavez said. “She does not have the trust of the community.”
Parents who weighed in online also expressed frustrations with the district’s unwillingness to discuss what happened.
“What is worse is that the school wouldn’t tell us parents exactly what happened,” Jean Baer posted to X. “My son goes here. The email we received only said the drill wasn’t conducted in line w/their policies, that trauma counseling will be provided & no detail given while they investigate.”
“I think finger shooting 4 year olds and banging on windows and saying boom you’re dead was a little inappropriate,” another user posted. “Maybe next time work on notifying the staff and students first and then a system of how they should respond to a threat?”