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Published: Thursday, 5/17/2007

How not to teach

IT IS impossible to imagine elementary school educators with worse judgment than a bunch in Murfreesboro, Tenn. They apparently figured that scaring the bejeebers out of sixth graders during a week-long class trip was in the kids' best interest. But what they did by staging a phony gun attack on the children was inexcusable.

On the heels of the Virginia Tech massacre that left 33 students and professors dead, staff members of Scales Elementary School, led by Assistant Principal Don Bartch, decided to simulate the same horror on their unsuspecting students. To make the experience even more terrifying for the youngsters, the adults told them the exercise was not a drill.

For what must have been an unforgettable few minutes, staff convinced the 69 students in their care that a gunman was on the loose. The kids were immediately directed to hide under tables in a room with the lights off and keep quiet.

In an incredibly over-the-top development, a teacher disguised in a hooded sweatshirt even tried to yank open the locked door to the room.

Parents were understandably outraged by the bizarre undertaking no one was informed of beforehand. "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 lived through the nightmare. Other students said some of their classmates were crying, thinking they were going to die.

Mr. Bartch said the fake assault was intended as a learning experiment, and afterward the perpetrators of the abuse "got together and discussed what we would have done in a real situation." The man obviously needs to get a clue about the difference between studying sound protective measures and unnecessarily traumatizing sixth graders on a field trip.

The assistant principal and one teacher were suspended as a result of the appalling incident, and the school's principal admitted that it did involve "poor judgment." Most parents would not be as diplomatic if their kids were involved and would rightly demand more serious punishment for the offending parties.

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