‘The Doors Are Always Open’ at Bowie High School: How Safe is Bowie Really?

Arushi Sharma, Editor-in-Chief


It started off as a normal Friday with the 9:05 am bell.

Thirty minutes later, sophomore Martin Piorkowski’s substitute teacher was singing loudly to the song Toxic by Britney Spears on a karaoke machine.

This wasn’t what he expected in his Spanish 2 class first period. 

“Once we got in the classroom, after waiting for our substitute teacher who showed up late, he started telling everyone about how he had been kicked out of Utah and California school districts, trying to make everyone laugh,”  Piorkowski said. “After that he started telling everyone to invite our friends to the classroom to watch the karaoke show, and then he started singing really loudly.”

Known as the @therealchillsub on both Instagram and TikTok with over a thousand followers on Instagram, he has been posing as a substitute teacher and posting karaoke singing videos in classrooms on his social media. On Friday, Dec. 3, the teacher was hired to substitute Tatiana Chavez’s Spanish classes.

“The fact that he brought a karaoke machine onto campus and wasn’t questioned is concerning,” parent Kimberly Skeene said. “So either he was ignored and no one ever noticed the machine or they saw it and didn’t bother to ask questions. Both of those scenarios raise concerns. What if it had been a gun case? A bomb? It raises questions about the check-in procedures for teachers, especially for substitute teachers.”

While the substitute teacher didn’t have a formal AISD badge, he was checked in and was processed through the Raptor system, and was AISD approved. Once the administration learned of @therealchillsub’s actions on campus, he was escorted off the Bowie campus, and hours later posted from the Austin High School campus.

“What students need to hear that ultimately safety and security is everyone’s responsibility, because it depends on all of us,” principal Mark Robinson said. “It’s important for students and staff to follow three rules whenever they’re on campus: see something, say something, always wear your ID so we know who you are and don’t leave doors propped open.”

After hearing about this intrusion, an anonymous source shared that this wasn’t the first time that they have heard of someone being on campus that wasn’t supposed to be. They explained that there is a girl who visits Bowie each week who doesn’t even go here and hasn’t been caught.

“Even though I’ve met her a couple of times and she’s non-threatening, the idea that someone that’s not supposed to be here and is allowed to walk around for the majority of the day is concerning,” the anonymous source said.

On Tuesday, Nov. 30, just three days before the substitute teacher incident, a student brought a 9-mm rifle to Oxford High School in Oxford, Michigan. Around noon, the student opened fire in a classroom killing four students and injuring eight after firing over 15 rounds of ammunition.

“In light of everything this week from what happened in Michigan, to the lock down at Akins High School, it seems almost unreal that there was an unknown intruder who was an adult in a classroom full of students,” senior Sarah Yoo said. “It makes me question who I see on campus now, adult or student, and what weapons or harmful items they might carry.”

What has been classified as the ‘epidemic of gun violence’, school shootings have heavily increased, despite the COVID-19 pandemic interrupting the trend line, with 29 school shootings resulting in injury and death in 2021.

“I’ve always had a lot of anxiety about being caught up in a school shooting,” senior Digby Matthews said. “Especially before COVID-19 when there were a lot of school shootings, it was really hard to focus most of the time in class because I was afraid of Bowie being shot up by an intruder.”

Matthews isn’t alone in his fear of a school shooting occurring at Bowie. With the recent incident of the substitute teacher, rumors about other students coming on campus freely, and the recent Oxford shooting, this feeling has echoed among other students as well.

“Being on an open campus, it does make me feel more unsafe as there are many ways a person can get on campus,” sophomore Matthew Pogonat-Walters said. “The various unlocked doors and how it’s extremely easy it is for anyone to get in and out is extremely unsettling.”

A recent study conducted by Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun-control advocacy group that uses news reports to track gunshots being fired on or into school property, recorded 138 of these gunshots on school property in 2021 alone, all in the United States.

“In America, especially Texas it seems like gun violence is more prevalent as other places they have measures in place to prevent events like this,” Pogonat-Walters said. “Especially since it’s possible to implement these regulations, so I think it’s bad that we don’t have them in place as it can prevent something harmful from happening.”

Compared to other countries, America which has less than 5% of the world’s population, has 46% of the world’s civilian-owned guns. Moreover, America also has the highest homicide-by-firearm rate of the world’s most-developed nation.

“With everything going on, it makes it difficult to feel safe on campus because nobody knows or can predict what can happen, especially on such a large campus,” Matthews said. “While we’re in a safe area, there is still this constant overwhelming fear that someone is here on campus that’s not supposed to be.”


 REFLECTIONS ON CAMPUS SAFETY – Mark Robinson Star Newsletter

There is no greater burden shouldered by campus leaders than that of keeping students safe. In the wake of rumors circulating in social media earlier this week about a possible gun threat and after shenanigans of a rogue substitute teacher last Friday — all in the context of the recent school shooting in Michigan — I recognize that some in our community are feeling particularly anxious or on extra high-alert when it comes to the safety and security of students. I want to take this opportunity to offer some information and reassurance so you are positioned to have fruitful discussions with your child about their day-to-day safety. 

While the 1980s-design of the campus does not allow for an impenetrable perimeter, there have been a number of changes taken over the last few years to inhibit access to the campus. Some of the changes include: reduction in the number of entry points, locking of exterior doors, installation of one-way film on exterior doors, installation of security cameras, and requiring identification badges for anyone on campus. Additionally, visitors must present ID and complete a Raptor background check in the main office before entering the campus. Teachers are also asked to keep their doors locked or to use a door magnet device that allows for anyone with or without a key to quickly lock the door in an emergency. While there has been some resistance among students to wear their lanyards and badges, doing so is what enables students and staff to identify someone who is not authorized to be on-campus. The effectiveness of this system was proven this week when a former student entered the campus without properly checking in, but was quickly spotted and escorted off-campus. 

Our campus administrators and counselors routinely work in close collaboration, day-in and day-out, with district leadership and the Austin ISD Police Department in assessing and responding to threats of a variety of natures. These professionals are highly trained and knowledgeable about best practices. I feel that it is important to convey to you that it is not standard practice to notify parents and guardians of each and every concern reported, particularly if those concerns are based on rumors proven to be untrue or of no threat to the wider student population. To do so would potentially hinder investigations, unnecessarily contribute to angst and disrupt learning, and particularly if there is social media involved, possibly fuel the efforts of those engaging in making false claims. There can also be issues of confidentiality that would make sharing information inappropriate. If your child is ever in danger, our approach is to first prioritize securing your child’s safety and then communicate information to you. Your trust in this process is what enables us to keep our resources focused on the students and the issues at hand. 

Responding to heightened anxieties has become a top priority for our leadership teams over the past few months. While we believed that there would be repercussions from the Covid disruptions and on-going social and political discord, we didn’t know until the return to school this fall how it would be manifested. As we saw behaviors not typical to Bowie, such as vandalism and conflicts between 

students, we knew we needed to take action and we began developing a response plan. On January 4, 2022, our staff will participate in professional development to help equip students in the development of strategies to better self-regulate, relate to others in a positive way, and to reason their way through challenges. Our “Regulate, Relate, and Reason” strategies will then be incorporated into classroom practices and explicitly taught to students in a series of social and emotional learning lessons during the spring semester. Additionally, because almost every conflict on our campus involves some component of social media misuse, we will also be engaging students in digital citizenship lessons. All of these efforts are grounded in neuroscience and the understanding that until our students are mentally healthy, they are more likely to struggle emotionally, socially, and academically. 

To assume responsibility for your child’s well-being is both an honor and a heavy responsibility. While I cannot offer you unconditional guarantees regarding your child’s safety, I can offer my sincerest commitment to making Bowie safe. I am grateful for your support in this work and for my staff who continue to be vigilant in safeguarding our students. I have been in conversation with many of you in recent days about these issues and always welcome your feedback.