After a torrent of complaints, the Pinellas County school system is scrapping its plans to show a video to elementary school students in preparation for state-mandated active shooting drills to begin soon.
The reaction came from parents after the district on Friday released three videos — one for children in kindergarden through second grade, one for kids in grades 3-5 and one for middle and high school students. Many said the footage and vocabulary were not appropriate for the younger students.
Over the weekend and on Monday, according to district spokeswoman Lisa Wolf, the School Board received emails and calls, as well as comments and messages on social media from parents who wanted to express their opinions.
Most were against their kids watching the videos, so the district decided Monday not to play them in elementary classrooms. But not all of the reaction was negative, so the videos will stay on the district’s website for families who may want to use them, Wolf said.
Jennifer McKay and her husband are two of the parents who expressed concern. Sitting on their living room couch Sunday night, they huddled together while their four kids played and watched the videos in the lowest volume possible.
They quickly learned about the "Run, Hide, Fight" strategy explained on the videos. But two images were especially concerning — one of a police officer rushing into a classroom holding a rifle and another of a man dressed in black lurking around the school.
McKay said she and her husband were horrified. Unable to say anything without their kids hearing, they exchanged knowing looks, she said.
Both of them had the same thought: If their two elementary school-aged sons looked at the videos, they would be scared to go to school.
McKay called the school district to protest Monday, but whoever answered hung up on her immediately.
"I guess they were getting too many calls at once," she said. Later, she found out schools wouldn’t show the videos anymore, and felt grateful.
Wolf said the district hired a production company to create the elementary videos, and the Gibbs High School performing arts program created the one for middle and high schools. All of them were made to comply with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, the new state law approved in the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting at the Parkland school. It requires schools to carry out monthly active shooter training.
The district tried to ensure the videos were as appropriate as possible for all ages and sought out input from the Teaching and Learning Department, which is in charge of all curricula. Law enforcement also weighed in.
The issue, Wolf said, was not having enough time.
"Time worked against us," she said. "We were tasked to do this during the summer on top of all we typically already do during that time."
Wolf said the district didn’t get the final videos until last week and decided to make them public immediately to hear back from parents before showing them to kids.
When Stephanie Cox, one of those parents, saw the video, she said she felt disgust. One line from the script especially jarred her: "You won’t be scared if you’re prepared."
She said the videos are appropriate for older students, but not for younger kids. They’re too vivid.
A plane crashing is not necessary in a plane safety video. A school on fire is not necessary for a fire drill. Similarly, she thinks these "active assailant" videos show too much information.
She said she has been preventing her two sons, ages 7 and 10, from hearing about school shootings, but knows other parents are different, so she thinks the district made the right decision in making them available online.
"It’s a compromise," she said.
The public outcry didn’t come as a surprise, Wolf said. District officials knew it was a possibility because active shooter training is a sensitive topic.
More videos are in the works, Wolf said. But moving forward, the district will refrain from showing any of them to elementary school kids. They will be posted online and the other versions will be shared with older students.
Monthly "active assailant drills" will still take place in all grades, and the videos will be available for elementary school teachers as a training tool.
"It’s going to be a behind-the-scenes process," Wolf said.
After all, she said, they’re still trying to figure out how to best comply with the law.
"This is new to all of us in Florida."
Contact Jimena Tavel at [email protected] Follow @taveljimena.