School district pushes back against criticism over shooting drill

A Pennsylvania school district is pushing back against criticism of an active-shooter drill where the gunman wore a keffiyeh, the traditional Arab formal headdress.

The fallout from the controversial January drill at Penn-Trafford School District began after parts of a video circulating on social media showed a teacher playing the shooter wearing a checkered keffiyeh.

The teacher at a school outside of Pittsburgh also wore a long blonde wig and a paintball mask over his face, the district said in a statement this week.

“There was no intent to represent any particular culture or religion,” according to the statement.

The video of the drill — put together in conjunction with a consultant and local police — was intended for staff personnel and was held on a staff training day, the district said. Students in the high school’s audio-visual department produced the video.

“There was no intent by the District, police department or consultant as part of the training to provide an identity to the volunteers as anything other than an active shooter,” the statement said.

“PT prides itself on instilling respect for others, in its students and staff and has conducted numerous trainings on cultural diversity.”

The district’s response comes after its portrayal of an active shooter at the drill was criticized by civil rights and advocacy groups.

Abed Ayoub, national legal and policy director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, told CNN Saturday that the organization had reached out to the district but had not heard back.

“It really looks like they tried to make (the active shooter) look like an Arab,” he said. “Our initial reaction was shock that something like this would be allowed to happen in a school project.”

Ayoub said concerns over school shootings are shared by all but the message sent by the training video is clear: “Hey, people wearing Arab headdress or Muslims are suspicious. You should watch out for them.”

The district said the costumes and accessories worn by the volunteers were provided by the consultant group.

The security training consultant told WPXI that the volunteer teacher wore the scarf on his head without their permission.

John Otto, chief of the Penn Township Police Department, told the station the controversy is a “teachable moment.”

Ayoub agreed.

“It looks like a student project when you watch the full video,” he said. “So the onus and responsibility on this should fall on the parents and the adults that were in the room.”