WINTER HAVEN, FL — Classrooms full of students and staff members were terrified when gun-wielding police officers unexpectedly charged in and locked down their middle school — an event that was actually part of a realistic drill that no one was allowed to know about.
The disturbing event happened early in the school day at Jewett Middle Academy on Thursday, November 13th, 2014. Without explanation, the principal announced at 9:00 a.m. that the school was being put into lockdown.
Moments later, police officers swept through the school, classroom-by-classroom, with weapons drawn. The bewildered children and teachers actually thought they were in real danger.
“We actually thought that someone was going to come in there and kill us,” said 7th grader Lauren Marionneaux to FOX affiliate WTVT.
The event was an “active shooter drill,” which are becoming commonplace in America’s public schools, with varying degrees of realism and notification. Ostensibly promoted as a way to thwart school shootings, the controversial and dangerous drills also subtly shape the perspectives of young, impressionable minds.
Many schools run such drills during the summer or when class is not in session. Many use volunteers rather than unsuspecting students. But not in Polk County, Florida.
“I thought he was going to shoot me,” said student Stacy Ray to FOX 13, after seeing an officer carrying a rifle sweep through her classroom.
The teams of officers were not carrying prop firearms. The weapons were real and they were loaded with real ammunition, police confirmed to the Washington Post.
Frightened children began to send text messages to their parents, sending them into a panic. No parent had been notified that the dramatic event was going to occur, nor asked permission, nor granted consent. The first official explanation came in an email, on the day after the drill.
The secrecy was intentional and required, administrators confirmed.
“We do not give advanced notice of fire drills,” the school rationalized to to parents in an email, “in order to evaluate how safety procedures work.”
After many criticisms, the only thing that officials agreed to change in Polk County is the presence of actual, loaded weapons during the drills. The drills will continue, without warning or consent, whether parents like it or not.
“It really is to protect the children,” said Winter Haven Police Chief Charlie Bird.