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Cary-Grove plans "code red" drill with gun blanks

CARY – Parents at Cary-Grove High School say that firing gun blanks in an active shooter drill is going too far.

The high school planned a "Code Red" lockdown drill for 9 a.m. Wednesday.

School officials, who are working with Cary Police for the simulation, said they plan to use gun blanks "so that [students] might be able to recognize the sound and react quickly should an active gunman situation occur," a message on the high school's website read.

A school official will fire several rounds of gun blanks from a starter pistol, or the kind used at sporting events, Cary Police Chief Steven Casstevens said.

"The purpose is to take the Code Red drill one step further," the police chief said. "There are many [students] who've never heard a gunshot before."

Students already will be in locked classrooms when the blanks are fired, district officials said.

"It's going to be a very controlled situation preceded by a PA announcement," District 155 Spokesman Jeff Puma said.

"Any step we can take to give them an advantage in a crisis situation is a step we should be taking," he added.

Parents were outraged that the school would consider simulating gun sounds in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., which hit home for some students, they said.

"They want to familiarize kids with the sound of gunfire, how sick is that?" one parent said.

Other parents feared the sound of gunfire would traumatize their children.

"If you want to teach a Code Red, teach it, but there is no reason to make it feel [real]," said Sharon Miller, a parent of a Cary-Grove freshman. "We have fire drills but we don't set fires to make it feel more [real]."

But the exercise is a sad reality in today's society, Casstevens said, and it's exactly what schools and law enforcement should be teaching.

"Most people recognize fire, but not everyone recognizes the sound of gunshots, and that's the difference," the police chief said.

The Code Red drill will last about 15 to 20 minutes and will be preempted by an announcement marking the start of the exercise. Teachers then will secure students into classrooms and draw the curtains, and Cary Police officers and school administration will sweep the building to make sure all students are in classrooms. There will be about four or five officers participating in Wednesday's drill, Casstevens said.

A second announcement will alert students that they will hear gunfire.

After the simulation, there will be a discussion with student's classroom teacher. Social workers will also be available, Puma said.

Parents complained that they were not notified about the drill, and that gun blanks would be fired. The school sent an email that Miller received Monday about 9 p.m. Puma admitted there were "blips" in the district's communication servers, that sent some of the emails straight to some parents spam folder.

Tomorrow's training is the not the first of its kind for the high school district. Four days after the Newtown, Conn. shooting there was a similar drill at Crystal Lake South High School, and no parents complained, Puma said. Gun blanks were not used in that drill.

Last school year, Cary Police and Cary-Grove High School officials conducted the drill with gun blanks with teachers but no students present.

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