SAN GABRIEL, Calif. – A first-year principal at an elementary school in California is in hot water after she reportedly conducted an active shooter drill during which she callously pretended to shoot and kill students, some as young a 4-years-old, according to parents who complained about the unauthorized event.
Nina Denson, who became the principal at Washington Elementary School in San Gabriel in Fall 2023, was placed on administrative leave after the San Gabriel Unified School District began receiving complaints about students being traumatized by the lockdown drill, which took place on Wednesday, KTLA reported.
Superintendent Jim Symonds of the San Gabriel Unified School District said the safety drill was not authorized.
“This type of drill where a scenario was run is not approved by the district nor part of our district protocol,” Symonds confirmed.
Upset parents believe the exercise was inappropriate and the principal’s actions during the lockdown drill caused children unnecessary duress.
“She proceeded to walk around campus and pretended to shoot people she saw using finger movements and banging on windows,” said parent Jennifer Chavez. “From what I heard, she said to one of the students, ‘Boom. You’re dead.’”
Parents claimed that some of the children who witnessed Denson’s shooting motion were as young as 4-years-old. Chavez’s son is a first grade student at the school.
“Oh he was really upset,” Chavez said. “The one shocking, surprising thing he said as a 6-year-old was, ‘I’m just really glad none of my friends died.’”
Once Denson completed the mock-shooting, she made an announcement that declared seven students had been killed during the exercise.
Ann Bustamante was another upset parent. She said the ordeal was particularly inappropriate, according to KTLA.
“Can you imagine the trauma these children potentially could go through of just thinking, ‘Oh my God, my friend was killed’ or ‘I was shot and told I died,’” she said. “At the young age that these children are, it was very upsetting.”
Once the controversy erupted, district officials sent an email to parents that said, “The conduct of the drill does not appear to have been in line with District protocols or best practices.”
Though an investigation is underway, some parents have concluded that Denson should not return to the school as its principal.
“I don’t want her back here at all,” said Chavez. “She does not have the trust of the community.”
Parents were not alone in their criticism of Denson. Some staff members were also reportedly upset by the unauthorized drill, KTLA reported.
Meanwhile, parents received notification on Thursday that a veteran teacher at Washington Elementary will assume the role of interim principal while the investigation takes place.