Principal on leave after disrupting active shooter drill at Southern California elementary school

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Nina Denson, the principal at Washington Elementary School in San Gabriel, was placed on leave.  (San Gabriel Unified School District)

A school principal has been placed on administrative leave after witnesses said he conducted a disturbing active shooter drill at a San Gabriel elementary school.

The incident occurred Wednesday at Washington Elementary and involved a woman named Nina Denson, who joined the school as principal in fall 2023.

Children and parents are upset over what they say were a series of inappropriate actions by Denson during the lockdown drill.

“She started walking around the campus and saw people wagging their fingers and tapping on the windows, pretending to shoot them,” said parent Jennifer Chavez. “From what I heard a student say, ‘Boom. you’re dead.'”

Nina Denson, The Principal At Washington Elementary School In San Gabriel, Was Placed On Leave.  (San Gabriel Unified School District)
Washington Elementary School In San Gabriel, California.  (Ktla)
Washington Elementary School In San Gabriel, California.  (Ktla)
Washington Elementary School In San Gabriel, California.  (Ktla)

Parents said some of the children who witnessed the principal’s actions were as young as 4 years old.

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“Oh, he was really upset,” Chavez said of her son, who is in the first grade. “One shocking, amazing thing he said at age 6 was, ‘I’m really glad none of my friends died.'”

According to San Gabriel Unified School District Superintendent Jim Simmonds, the security drill was not authorized.

“This type of drill where a scenario was run is not approved by the district and is not part of our district protocols,” Simmonds confirmed.

After the drill, staff members claimed Denson announced that seven children were dead.

“Can you imagine the trauma these kids potentially go through just thinking, ‘Oh my God, my friend was killed’ or ‘I was shot and told I’m dead,'” “Parent Anna Bustamante said. “For how young these kids are, it was very disturbing.”

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District officials later sent an email to parents saying, “The conduct of the practice does not appear to be consistent with district protocol or best practices.”

The incident is under investigation, but some parents have already made up their minds and are calling for Denson to be removed from his role.

“I don’t want him back here at all,” Chavez said. “He doesn’t have the trust of the community.”

Some staff members were also reportedly upset with the unauthorized drill. Officials told KTLA counselors were on school campus for any students or staff who may need those services.

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An email update sent to parents Thursday confirmed that a veteran teacher at Washington Elementary will take over as interim principal while the investigation continues.

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