February 07, 2014

A modest science teacher performs a heroic act

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT Communications
L-R: Senator Patty Ritchie, science teacher Robert Kuba, Indian River High School principal Troy Decker and school resource officer Carrie Mangino. Photo provided by the Office of Senator Patty Ritchie.
Caption: L-R: Sen. Patty Ritchie, science teacher Robert Kuba, Indian River High School principal Troy Decker and school resource officer Carrie Mangino. Photo provided by the Office of Senator Patty Ritchie.

When an Indian River High School student took the blanket off an object he said was for an experiment on conductions, science teacher Robert Kuba saw it was a gun case. Kneeling next to Kuba's desk, the student opened it up, and Kuba saw the barrel of a loaded .22 caliber rifle.

"I beat him to it," Kuba recalled. "I grabbed the barrel with my right hand and put my left hand on the student. I grabbed his wrist. He didn't fight me for it."

Holding the rifle, Kuba walked the student around the outer perimeter of the second-floor classroom, barrel pointed away from the 21 students sitting at their desks that January day. He took the student into a chemical storeroom in the back of the class, where he called the main office and told them there was an emergency.

"I was trying to keep calm. I didn't want people to get scared," said Kuba, a 25-year teaching veteran. "There was no panic. It happened so fast."


Photo by Justin Sorensen/Watertown Daily Times

The principal and the school's Jefferson County Sheriff's Department resource officer came through a side door into the storage room to apprehend the student. Kuba returned to his students and finished teaching the remaining 15 minutes of class. He told the students that officials were talking to the student.

"I was trying to maintain calm," said the father of three children, one of whom attends the same high school.

After that, the school went on lockdown and police dogs were brought in. An emergency notice went up on the school's website and text alerts were sent to parents' mobile phones. There are about 950 students in the grades 9-12 building, where Kuba and his colleagues are members of the Indian River Educators Association, led by Carmine Inserra.

"It's not until you stop and think about what could have been, do you realize how impressive it was what Bob did with that student," said Inserra, who is also a science teacher. "It could've been very different. It's nice we've been able to appreciate what we have instead of mourning losses." 

Published reports quoting the sheriff's department state the student with the gun had violent actions planned.

Last week, Kuba had a different kind of surprise at school: He was called down to the high school library and presented with the distinguished New York State Senate Liberty Award for heroic actions, in a ceremony conducted by state Sen. Patty Ritchie, R- Heuvelton.

"Many people think the job of a teacher is just to teach but, as we've seen with this incident, it's much more than that," said Ritchie, who represents this small, rural area near the Canadian border. Her office has presented only one or two awards each year, and this is the first one given to a teacher.

NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi called Kuba after the gun incident became public and spoke to him for about 15 minutes, Kuba said, sharing his appreciation for the teacher's quick response.

But Kuba, who is also a track coach, is quite firm in his modesty.

"I consider firemen, policemen and soldiers the heroes," said Kuba. "I just reacted quickly that day and did what I was supposed to."

There is at least one soldier, though, who believes Kuba is a hero, too. The father of one of Kuba's students, he was returning from deployment in Afghanistan to the nearby Fort Drum Army Base and his family when, according to Kuba, he got a text from his wife telling him there was a person with a gun in his child's school.

"What school?" the father typed back.

"Your daughter's classroom," the mom texted.

Those grateful parents, and many students, were among others who treated Kuba and his wife Kathy to dinner a few nights later at a local restaurant to thank him.

The morning after the science teacher took the gun safely from the student, administrators came to the 10th grade class to speak to students about what had happened in front of them. Kuba said one student asked how the classmate who'd had the gun was doing.

"They're a very mature class," he said of his earth science students. "They handled it very well."

Students were offered the services of the school's social worker, psychologist and guidance counselor.

Kuba credits the services of these health care professionals, a strong staff, a professional student mediator and a resource officer with keeping Indian River a consistently safe school. The district regularly has lockdown drills, he said.

To show his deep appreciation for community members and parents of his children's friends who serve in the Armed Forces, Kuba takes photographs at school and sporting events. He sends them to students' parents who are overseas, serving their country but missing parts of their children's lives. Some have deployed more than a half dozen times, he said.

"I really appreciate the sacrifices these families make," he said.

And, right now, there are many people in Indian River who are appreciating Robert Kuba.

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