School Climate & Safety

Indiana Teachers Sue Law Enforcement Over ‘Active Shooter’ Simulation

By Stephen Sawchuk — August 26, 2020 2 min read
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Teachers in Indiana who made national news last year after they were shot at with plastic bullets as part of an active-shooter drill at their elementary school have sued the county sheriff’s department that conducted the training, alleging that it the incident has caused them long-term physical and emotional effects.

In January 2019, the teachers, all from in the Twin Lakes School Corp. district, arrived for a voluntary professional-development session on active shooter situations. None of them were informed of the content of the training, which including being shot at close range, execution style, purportedly to show what could happen without preparation. The exercise left the terrified teachers with welts and bruises, and caused widespread outrage after the Indiana State Teachers Association testified about it at a state hearing several months later.

Several of the teachers, the complaint alleges, left the district, moved to a different school, or retired as a direct result of the incident. One had a permanent scar; two sought counseling; one was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD; and all reported continuing anxiety and fear around law enforcement personnel and/or firearms

The lawsuit, filed in federal court for the Northern District of Indiana, names White County, the White County Sheriff’s Department, and six current and former employees of the district.

Among other things, the teachers also alleged that the law-enforcement officers were laughing or smirking at them during the exercises or otherwise appeared unconcerned about their pain and distress.

The teachers argue that the law enforcement officers violated their Fourth Amendment rights, which protect citizens from undue search and seizure, and also fall afoul of a state law protecting people from the negligent infliction of emotional distress.

The lawsuit has the additional muscle of the National Education Association—the ISTA’s parent union—behind it, with counsel from the NEA named as attorneys for the plaintiffs.

School Safety Still a Hot Topic

The district the was using a form of “Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate,” or ALICE training, which remains controversial among school-safety experts. The model generally includes both lockdown plans and some efforts to fight back, and includes active-shooter simulations, though its guidelines don’t condone using plastic pellets in those simulations.

And while active-shooter drills have been put on hold as schools have largely moved to remote learning due to COVID-19, the larger conversation about which school safety measures are the most effective is far from resolved.

In just one very recent representative example, two parents who lost children in the 2018 slaughter in Parkland, Fla. have been featured in the recent national political party conventions. One, Frank Guttenberg, who favors gun-control measures among other policies, spoke in favor of Joe Biden, saying he would “take on the NRA” at the Democratic National Convention, while another, Andrew Pollack, was featured at the Republican National Convention. Pollack has blamed the Broward County school district’s restorative-justice programs and other alternative discipline policies for why the shooter in Parkland wasn’t identified as a threat earlier.

In July, the Government Accountability Office concluded that no research currently links schools’ discipline policies to school shootings.

Read the Indiana complaint below.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.