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Fiancee of man charged in Potsdam school lockout says comments were taken out of context

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POTSDAM — The fiancee of a man arrested over a remark that was perceived as a potential threat and caused a lockout in Potsdam schools Thursday says his comment was taken out of context.

Toby J. LaBier, 37, of Potsdam was charged with one count of second-degree criminal nuisance after, according to Lawrence Avenue Elementary School Principal Lawrence B. Jenne’s statement to police, he said, “You wonder why people come into school and shoot things up.”

Brittany A. Lozano said Friday that’s not exactly what her fiancee said.

“He said, ‘No wonder people shoot up schools,’” she said. “It was a very broad statement. It wasn’t directed toward anybody. He was only talking about things that had already happened.”

Mr. LaBier’s comment occurred during a meeting in which he and Ms. Lozano became frustrated with the principal as they tried to discuss matters concerning Ms. Lozano’s two children, she said.

Regardless of the context, Superintendent Patrick H. Brady said, such comments are not acceptable in today’s world.

“Regardless of the conversation that takes place between a school official and a parent or someone from the community, these types of threatening remarks have no place in a school environment,” he said.

Mr. Brady said that despite Ms. Lozano’s assertion that the comments were not directed at anybody, the school had no choice but to respond the way it did.

“With the events that have happened from Columbine to Newtown, schools have to be extra vigilant with protecting the safety and security for students and staff,” he said.

Ms. Lozano has a son in first grade and a daughter in second grade at Lawrence Avenue Elementary. Her meeting with the principal was intended to discuss her daughter’s difficulties in math, she said.

“We sent in some of her homework not completed about three times,” Ms. Lozano said. “She came home and told us she can’t bring in incompleted homework anymore, because she was being forced to walk for 10 minutes during recess.”

While that punishment may not be so harsh for some children, it angered Ms. Lozano and Mr. LaBier.

“That wouldn’t be so bad, but my daughter is physically handicapped. She has a neurological disorder that affects her from the waist down,” she said. “She has braces on her legs, and walking is incredibly hard for her. To make her do that is cruel and unusual punishment. We were extremely livid.”

Ms. Lozano said that while her fiance, Mr. Labier, isn’t the biological father of either child, he has been a father figure to them for quite some time.

“He has always been there for them and would do anything for them,” she said. “He loves them both very much.”

Ms. Lozano said the conversation with the principal began in a civil manner, but turned testy as it appeared Mr. Jenne wasn’t paying attention to them.

“It wasn’t hostile at first. I started off by wanting to know if what my daughter said was true, because you know sometimes children exaggerate,” she said. “We tried to explain to him that children learn at different levels, but while we were talking Mr. Jenne was barely looking at us. I guess he was typing up minutes or something.”

Mr. Jenne said that was exactly what he was doing, noting that he uses his iPad to type notes from any conversation that he has.

As for the specifics of the conversation or the punishment of Ms. Lozano’s daughter, Mr. Jenne said he can’t comment.

“I can’t comment on that, because it’s about a specific child and would be an invasion of their privacy,” he said. “I will not discuss any of the things we talked about during that meeting due to privacy concerns for the students.”

While the meeting initially began as a discussion about the Common Core, Ms. Lozano said it quickly evolved to include other things.

“It wasn’t just about peanuts,” she said, noting a student in her daughter’s class with a peanut allergy was among the topics discussed.

“I don’t understand why she can eat them for lunch, but she can’t bring them in for a snack,” Ms. Lozano said, adding the tipping point for Mr. Labier came when they attempted to talk about an issue they’ve been having with her son.

“We tried talking to him about a bus monitor harassing our son, who is even more physically handicapped than she is. He is wheelchair-bound, but Mr. Jenne wouldn’t even listen to us. He said, ‘That’s not my area,’ and told us to talk to the bus garage.”

“That was the breaking point,” Ms. Lozano said, adding that is when Mr. LaBier made the comment — perceived as a threat by Mr. Jenne — and stormed out of the meeting.

Ms. Lozano said the conversation with Mr. Jenne continued for approximately five or 10 more minutes.

“He said he would look into the punishment and get back to me, but I’m not holding my breath,” she said, adding both she and Mr. Labier are worried about the impact this incident could end up having on her children at school.

“I don’t want this to affect my children. I’m considering removing my children from the school,” she said, adding her daughter was kept home on Friday.

When asked where she would send them, she replied, “I would send them wherever I could. This is only our second year in this district, and it has been nothing but problems. I’m not talking to that school anymore.”

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