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Potsdam schools put in lockout mode for one hour; man charged over comment to principal

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POTSDAM — A comment taken as a potential threat in a parent’s meeting with the Lawrence Avenue Elementary School principal resulted in a lockout at Potsdam Central Schools for about one hour Thursday morning.

The boyfriend of the mother of an elementary student, Toby J. LaBier, 37, of Potsdam, was charged with one count of second-degree criminal nuisance. Elementary Principal Larry B. Jenne told police that shortly after 9 a.m. Mr. LaBier became irritated during the meeting about the Common Core learning standards and the fact that a teacher had asked the child’s mother, Brittany Lazano, to bring a peanut-free snack because of a student’s allergy.

“Toby LaBier was obviously upset by the course the conversation was taking and commented, ‘You wonder why people come into school and shoot things up,’” Mr. Jenne told police.

Mr. LaBier was seated and made the comment in a matter-of-fact tone, Mr. Jenne said.

The principal told police that the comment made him feel uncomfortable and that he told Mr. LaBier it was inappropriate. Mr. LaBier replied, “The police can find me in the parking lot in a gray car” and walked out, slamming the door, according to Mr. Jenne.

“I spoke with Brittany Lazano after he left and she apologized for his comment, assuring me that he would ‘never do anything.’ I remained uneasy, not knowing Mr. LaBier or having any idea what he is or isn’t capable of,” Mr. Jenne said in his statement to police.

After consulting Superintendent Patrick H. Brady, the principal called village police, who went looking for Mr. LaBier.

Nearly an hour after calling the police at 9:20 a.m., Mr. Jenne said, he followed up with them, and after being told that they were still attempting to locate Mr. LaBier, the principal decided to implement a lockout in his building, a procedure that was also followed in the middle and high schools. The elementary and middle schools are connected.

The lockout lasted for 45 minutes to an hour, until police arrested Mr. LaBier at about 11 a.m.

In a lockout, as opposed to a complete lockdown, visitors are barred from entering the schools and children are not allowed to leave, but classes and activities carry on as normal inside. “In this case there was not a perpetrator in the building,” Mr. Brady said.

The superintendent praised Mr. Jenne for his response to the situation.

“Under the circumstances, the building principal acted very appropriately,” he said. “Mr. Jenne did an excellent job and what he was trained to do.”

Mr. LaBier was released on his own recognizance. He was ordered not to go to the elementary or middle schools, to stay away from Mr. Jenne and to surrender any guns he owns to the St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department by noon today.

While an announcement was made that the school was in lockout mode, Mr. Brady said students were not made aware of specifically what had happened. An email message, as well as a text message, was sent to parents who subscribe to the district’s emergency contact service.

“People need to understand we take every threat seriously,” Mr. Brady said. “People need to be careful what they say.”

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