TeMURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) _ A teacher and assistant principal who frightened sixth-grade students on a class trip by telling them a gunman was on the loose were staging a prank, a spokeswoman for the schools said.
The school district's statement reversed earlier statements by the assistant principal that it was planned as a learning experience.
Teacher Quentin Mastin came up with the prank, said Murfreesboro City School District spokeswoman Cheryl Harris. It was his turn to tell a scary story to 69 sixth-graders from Scales Elementary School who were on a weeklong trip at Fall Creek Falls State Park.
He decided to pretend there was someone shooting a gun. The children were called into the common area and told there were two men driving around shooting randomly. Then a teacher told the students to ``do a code red'' _ a school emergency drill _ and they got under the tables and turned off the lights.
Another teacher drove a car up to the building and flashed the headlights while a third put a sweat shirt over her head and rattled the doors. That's when some of the children started crying.
``They never meant for it to get carried to the point it did,'' Harris said.
When teachers realized some of the children were really scared, they turned on the lights and told them they had just been pretending.
``They took the opportunity to say, 'This was a prank, but if it had been an emergency, you did the right thing,''' she said.
Assistant principal Don Bartch had been quoted in newspapers over the weekend portraying the incident as a planned learning experience. ``We got together and discussed what we would have done in a real situation,'' he said.
Harris said that discussion occurred, but not as part of a drill. Bartch, reached at his home, said he concurred with her version of events.
The school district announced Monday that Mastin and Bartch had been suspended without pay for the rest of the school year, which ends June 1. The other teachers who participated were not disciplined.
Jessica Giles, an assistant professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University who studies the consequences of violence and trauma on children, suggested that regardless of whether the incident was a drill or a prank, the effect on the children would probably be the same.
It is reasonable to expect that at least some of those students might suffer from ``increased amounts of fear about violence and school shootings and increased distrust for authority figures,'' she said.
``If it was a prank or a learning experience, does it matter?'' she asked. ``Can you clean up later?''
School principal Catherine Stephens held a meeting Saturday with parents who were upset by the prank. The children who were on the trip were offered counseling, Harris said, ``and the counselor said the children were upset because their teacher was not going to be there for the end of school.''