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Linking schools, violence raises red flags

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Deep within his heart of hearts, Toby J. LaBier must wish he could take back an irresponsible comment.

The 37-year-old Potsdam resident pleaded not guilty Friday to second-degree criminal nuisance and disorderly conduct. He was arrested Oct. 3 after engaging in an argument with Larry B. Jenne, principal of Lawrence Avenue Elementary School. Mr. Jenne told police that during their heated discussion, Mr. LaBier said to him, “You wonder why people come into school and shoot things up.”

Mr. LaBier’s girlfriend has two children attending the school. He apparently became perturbed over a few issues involving one of her children, Mr. Jenne said.

When confronted by the principal about the inappropriateness of his comment, Mr. LaBier replied, “The police can find me in the parking lot in a gray car,” Mr. Jenne said. Mr. LaBier then left the room and slammed the door behind him, Mr. Jenne told police.

Mr. LaBier’s girlfriend apologized for his actions and tried to assure the principal that he didn’t mean anything by the comment. But not knowing her boyfriend or what he might do, Mr. Jenne wisely called the police to report the incident. After checking in with police later, he placed the school on lockout until Mr. LaBier could be located by authorities.

Mr. LaBier was arrested later that day. He was ordered to stay away from any elementary or middle school and to surrender any guns he owns to the St. Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department.

His girlfriend says that the discussion about her children involved some very frustrating issues, and this is understandable. Like any governmental entity, public schools have often been known to implement questionable policies.

And she claimed that Mr. LaBier’s comment was taken out of context. What he actually told the principal, she said, was, “No wonder people shoot up schools.”

I can appreciate that misunderstandings between school administrators and parents frequently lead to tempers flaring out of control. In one situation or another, we’ve all been there.

But given the horrors that have been visited on several schools over the past few years, making a connection over a disagreement with a teacher and violence being committed at the school is inexcusable. Get mad and tell the school you’re going to sue — that’s fine.

Any hint of bloodshed, though, will force school authorities to notify law enforcement officials. It’s very likely that Mr. LaBier was merely blowing off steam. School officials don’t know this, however, and Mr. Jenne had no choice but to alert the police.

People don’t kill students and teachers at schools because they are fed up with the bureaucracy there. Dating back to Charles Whitman at the University of Texas at Austin in 1966, they engage in this kind of violence because they have severe mental health problems.

It’s regrettable that Mr. LaBier and his girlfriend felt they weren’t making any progress with these issues over her children. But you have to wonder what in the world he was thinking when he let loose with his comment.

The freedom to express ourselves is a sacred right, one that I make my living at every day. But when a reference to violence at a school is made, authorities must take it seriously. The alternative scenario is unimaginable.

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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