By Lauren Rearick
People on social media are calling out a Pittsburgh-area high school after an active shooter drill turned racist.
On January 21, 2019, Penn-Trafford High School, located in Harrison City, PA, held an active shooter drill with 350 participants, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. Within the last week, images from the drill have gone viral on social media, as many raised concern that an unidentified teacher who appears to be the hypothetical perpetrator in the scenario appears to be wearing a traditional Arab scarf called a keffiyeh.
In response to the image, MuslimMatters tweeted, “Penn-Trafford’s excuse for inappropriate appropriation of obviously Arab apparel is unacceptable. We expect higher standards from institutes of education. Keffiyeh isn’t just a scarf available at Walmart; this was deliberate & requires proper investigation & sensitivity training.”
Twitter users also pointed out that a majority of school shootings have been committed by white men, not by Arab people. “Pretty strange to dress in a costume not targeting a culture, when it’s traditionally worn by said culture. Especially when most school shooters are white men,” one person wrote. “They’re going to do everything they can to disregard the fact that most mass shooters in this country are white guys. Disregarding that fact is complete folly,” another added.
According to a press release posted to the district’s website on May 15, video taken during the drill was never meant to be made public and that it had been recorded for “future staff trainings,” though it’s unclear what purpose the outfit would even serve for those trainings. The district writes that members of the audio-visual department had posted the video to YouTube in what the school now calls an “unofficial release.”
The school has since disputed claims that the wardrobe was meant to “to represent any particular culture or religion.” The press release alleges that, “Screen captures of the video shared on social media fail to show the full costume worn by the volunteer. The individual wore a long blonde wig with a scarf tied around his head and a paintball/tactical mask over his face. He was dressed in a dark zip-up sweatshirt and dark pants.”
John Sakoian of Command Excellence LLC, the business which worked with the school on operating the drill told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that the person wearing a scarf was not the active shooter. “That individual was to go role play in a different scenario that we never ran, and he prematurely got into costume that was not approved and got inadvertently swept up in the first scenario,” he said. He alleges that the outfit was never approved by himself or the district’s superintendent.
Yet the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh feels “appalled and saddened” by the video. In a statement given to WTAE, a spokesperson for the organization said, “The Islamic Center of Pittsburgh hosts over 1,000 students and community members to educate and engage about Islamic beliefs and traditions. To stereotype the shooter is appalling given the data on active shooters and the recent shootings at the Tree of Life and Christ Church. The action of Penn Trafford puts our community of over 10,000 Muslims in the greater Pittsburgh area in great harm."
Former and current Penn-Trafford students also shared their concerns. In an interview with KDKA, Tinity Garbacz, a Penn-Trafford junior questioned the active shooter’s choice of wardrobe. “I just thought that maybe they could have used a normal person not to offend anyone,” she said. “You could have used anyone. You didn’t have to dress him up. I could’ve done it, you could’ve done it. It doesn’t have to be a certain religion or race or anything like that.”
Alicia McElhaney, an alumna of the school, also put out a Twitter call for former students, writing, “a group of us are working on organizing a response to the active shooter drill video.” In a later tweet, she reports that former students are planning to attend an upcoming school board meeting, and that others have started emailing school district officials.
MTV News has reached out to Penn-Trafford School District for comment.