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Dwight Adams, dwight.adams@indystar.com

One week after prohibiting the use of projectiles in active-shooter training at Indiana schools, a state Senate committee reversed course Wednesday.

Projectiles, like the plastic pellets used in a January incident that left Indiana teachers with bruises, welts and abrasions, would be allowed in teacher training sessions if those teachers agree to it. This practice was barred by the same committee last week.

“It’s got to do with reality and making sure they experience the emotions and adrenaline,” said Sen. Jeff Raatz, chair of the Senate’s education committee and author of the new amendment to allow for the use of pellets.

The Indiana State Teachers Association had asked for language prohibiting this practice. Teachers at Meadowlawn Elementary School in Monticello, Indiana, said they had agreed to active shooter training, conducted by the local sheriff’s department and knew the officers would be using an airsoft gun. They didn’t expect, though, to be shot across the back multiple times while huddled against a wall. 

Last week, lawmakers barred teachers from being shot with pellets

That language was amended into a school safety bill by the committee last week. The amendment would have prohibited the use of projectiles in any training or drill involving teachers or students. The new amendment, added to a bill dealing with handgun training for teachers, retains the protection for students but allows for the use of projectiles with teachers if those teachers consent to their use ahead of time.

ISTA said Wednesday that the new provision goes against what Hoosiers believe to be appropriate practice. 

“Passage of this amendment follows an incident in January where teachers at Meadowlawn Elementary School were injured when an airsoft gun was used during an active shooter training, and the teachers were told not to tell the next group of teachers participating in the drill about the projectiles,” said Teresa Meredith, president of ISTA. “This is an unacceptable practice, and ISTA will work to prohibit active shooter trainings from physically endangering school employees.”

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Raatz stressed that projectiles would only be allowed if a teacher has agreed to participate in that practice. But because that consent governs only whether projectiles are used — but not how — a repeat of the Meadowlawn incident would still be possible.

‘They had no idea they were going to be shot’

Two teachers involved in the training who spoke last month to IndyStar said they agreed to the training and were aware the airsoft gun would be used in simulations. Still, they said, they did not know they were agreeing to what was planned for them.

Juli Topp, vice president of member representation for Twin Lakes Classroom Teachers Organization, said she met with the Meadowlawn teachers last week and heard the same story from more than a dozen different teachers.

“They voluntarily signed up for this training, however they had no idea they were going to be shot,” she said.

Teachers at Meadowlawn Elementary were supposed to be receiving what is called ALICE training, an “options-based” approach that encourages students and teachers to be proactive in their response to an active-shooter and teaches tactics that include rushing a shooter in some situations. ALICE — an acronym for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate — does not typically involve being shot with airsoft guns.

The White County Sheriff’s Department, which conducted the training at Meadowlawn, said it is no longer using the device with teachers.

‘Creating training scars’ isn’t the right call, expert says

School safety experts have said that the use of such devices is not necessary or beneficial in such training exercises.

Morgan Ballis is a school safety consultant who advocates for options-based approaches and is an ALICE trainer. He said the training done with the Meadowlawn teachers sounds like what ALICE trainers receive, but wasn’t intended to be passed on to teachers. Reality-based training is important, he said, but trainers need to differentiate the lessons for their audience. 

“If we are physically or emotionally creating training scars, then we’re not going to meet the training objectives,” Ballis said.

The Indiana State Police, which recommends an expanded version of the popular Run, Hide, Fight program, also offers in-school training sessions. It includes slide-show and video presentations and discussion. Spokesman Sgt. John Perrine said the department also offers live-scenario training sessions, if requested, but officers do the role-playing while teachers observe.

State police officers do not use airsoft guns or fire any projectiles, but they do use a handgun designed to fire blank rounds. 

“The purpose of our scenario is simply to expose teachers and staff to the sounds of gunfire in the building, as well as the smells associated with gun powder,” Perrine said.

Call IndyStar education reporter Arika Herron at (317) 201-5620 or email her at Arika.Herron@indystar.com. Follow her on Twitter: @ArikaHerron.

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