NISKAYUNA -- Niskayuna High School students endured more than five hours locked in classrooms on Monday, as police searched the building -- room by room and student by student -- in response to a shooting threat.
Students on Tuesday said the lockdown caused serious stress, as their initial concern of an active shooter gave way to a drawn-out waiting game with no food or access to bathrooms.
“You feel helpless, like you have no influence on what’s going on and like you have no choice in anything,” Niskayuna junior Sean Collier, 17, said on Tuesday.
With lockdown protocols prohibiting students from leaving their classrooms, some students had to urinate in trash cans, students said. A change.org petition, established Monday night and calling on the district to cancel classes on Tuesday, garnered nearly 1,000 supporters.
The lockdown was enacted shortly before 1 p.m., with an announcement telling students it was not a drill. Shortly after the announcement, teachers got word that police were responding to a threatening note, which eased some of the students’ fears.
“Before we knew it was a note, people thought it was like an active shooter,” said 15-year-old sophomore Alana Weber. In a social media post, Weber wrote that students “worried of things we shouldn’t have to worry about … doors slammed closed sounded like gunshots.”
Weber said male students in her class urinated in a trash can, and students had to sit on the floor and stay quiet as the lockdown dragged on. After waiting multiple hours, police took her class into the hall, patted down students one by one and had a dog search the classroom. They then went back into the room as the lockdown continued. Students were released from the school after 6 p.m.
Weber also reiterated a message student activists around the region voiced during student walkouts in the spring, after a deadly school shooting in Florida: We shouldn’t have to be scared in school, and we shouldn’t have to be locked in our classrooms.
In her social media message, Weber urged people to vote Tuesday and, in an interview with The Daily Gazette, she called for strengthening gun restrictions.
“We wouldn’t have to be in this situation if people voted for the change,” she said. “There are things we shouldn’t have to be scared about. We shouldn’t have to deal with lockdowns at all.”
While school was held on its regular schedule Tuesday, some students skipped class. Weber said she stayed home. Collier said the school was “sparse” with students on Tuesday.
“They were fed up with what they went through and need to take a day,” Collier said of his classmates who missed school.
Collier said school administrators on Tuesday announced the threat was still under investigation, but he said he wanted a more detailed explanation or a venue for students to ask questions. He said it didn’t feel like the school leaders were acknowledging the strain students went through on Monday.
“We want them basically to acknowledge we understand you guys didn’t have food. We understand you had to relieve yourselves in trash cans, and we are sorry you had to endure that,” Collier said. “We will prepare for next time, so you guys aren’t locked up for six hours.”
Collier questioned why classrooms don’t have emergency supplies in case of an extended lockdown and suggested the district create “lockdown kits” in case students have to be held for multiple hours. He said he also wished school and district officials would share more information with students, both as they are going through the lockdown and after police have completed their search.
“They never directly address it with kids,” Collier said. “We have to be included.”
Niskayuna Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr. said Tuesday night that he recognized students, parents and staff were inconvenienced during the lockdown. He also emphasized the seriousness of violent threats against the school. Just last week, a 17-year-old Niskayuna student was charged with a felony count of making a terroristic threat. At least twice this year, Iroquois Middle School has been placed in lockdown in response to a threat, with one of those lockdowns delaying the regular dismissal.
“We are trying to keep everyone safe, and we understand that with the threat that happened yesterday … when we have these prolonged lockdowns, it creates severe inconveniences for everyone involved,” Tangorra said on Tuesday.
Tangorra added that district leaders are always working to fine-tune and improve their procedures. But he also suggested responses to threats aren’t ever likely to satisfy the concerns of all parents and students.
“If there are ways that we can perfect our process and make this as painless as possible, we are going to do it,” he said. “We also may learn that there are some things and some inconveniences we may not be able to overcome.”
District officials are hosting a public forum at 6 p.m. on Wednesday in the high school auditorium to discuss the lockdown.