A video produced by Penn Trafford High School and shared by students on social media showed a man pretending to be a shooter with a scarf resembling the keffiyeh wrapped around his head.
The Islamic Centre of Pittsburgh accused the school of stereotyping shooters as Arab or Muslim and condemned the incident as “appalling”, while an online petition demanding the authorities involved apologise described the drill as “racist”.
Yet Penn-Trafford School District claimed that the organisers of the January training exercise did not aim to portray the shooter as someone of Middle Eastern descent. “The active shooter drill … did not intend to represent any particular culture or religion as the shooters,” the district said in a statement.
“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.”
Command Excellence, the security company that staged the event at the request of the school, also denied any deliberate stereotyping.
John Sakoian, president and founder of the company, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the actor had not meant to convey any particular identity by wrapping a neck scarf around his head. “He completely, innocently converted it to that. It’s not just a Muslim headdress. It was a neck scarf,” said Mr Sakoian.
The video, produced by the school’s audio-visual department, was intended for internal training purposes, but began circulating online this week after it was shared by Penn Trafford students.
The school district later released images showing other costumes used in the training exercise, including a long blonde wig and a tactical mask.
Trinity Garbacz, a pupil at the high school, told CBS affiliate KDKA: “I just thought that maybe they could have used a normal person not to offend anyone.
“Like, you could have used anyone. You didn’t have to dress him up … It doesn’t have to be a certain religion or race or anything like that.”
An online petition called on the school district, Command Excellence and the local police department to apologise. “Given the statistics on the perpetrators of school shootings, the use of a head covering traditionally associated with Muslims in this drill can only be viewed as racist,” it stated.
Recent analysis of 111 active shootings at US schools shows the majority were carried out by white males.