All schools in the vast Los Angeles Unified School District have been ordered closed due to a threat. (Dec. 15)
LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County’s largest school system abruptly canceled classes for 650,000 students Tuesday after an email threat, a sign of how tense public officials are after recent terror attacks. New York City deemed a similar threat a “hoax“ and kept schools open.
Los Angeles schools Superintendent Ramon Cortines said although the district gets threats “all the time,” recent events in San Bernardino, about 60 miles east of the city, and elsewhere elevated this threat. “I, as superintendent, am not going to take the chance with the life of a student,” he said. “What we are doing today is not different from what we always due do except we are doing it in a mass way.”
About 12 hours after the superintendent’s action, Mayor Eric Garcetti said it was determined there were not “not a credible threat” and it was announced that schools would reopen Wednesday.
New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton said a generic email threat was sent to multiple school officials in Los Angeles, New York and possibly other districts across the nation. He said the threat appeared to originate abroad and probably was not “the usual prank of a student not wanting to take an exam.”
Bratton said the threats were made to promote fear, and that the NYPD was investigating along with the FBI, a joint terrorism task force and Los Angeles police. New York is the nation’s largest school system, with 1.1 million students attending almost 2,000 schools. The Los Angeles Unified School District is the second largest in the nation and enrolls more than 640,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, according to its website. More than 900 schools and 187 public charter schools are in a district sprawled across 720 square miles.
Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he would not “second guess’’ the school district’s decision to shutter the schools, but he noted there “were a lot of reasons to doubt the veracity’’ of the emailed threats.
In the Los Angeles communication, Sherman, who has been briefed on the matter, said the author indicated that a group of “32 comrades.” In the New York email, it was 130. The large-scale, the congressman said, immediately called into question the credibility of the threat. When Los Angeles made its decision, Sherman said authorities were not aware of the threat against New York. “There ought to be a way to share these threats,’’ he said.
The Los Angeles incident points up the need to assess threats before reacting, says Ken Trump, a school safety consultant based in Cleveland. Administrators can be “so fearful of being overwhelmed by community anxiety and parental backlash that they are responding emotionally.” And having kids out of school for the day can put them in even more danger.
Indeed, a 17-year-old boy was struck and killed by a truck outside a shuttered charter high school Tuesday in Los Angeles’ Highland Park neighborhood.
In Los Angeles, some students already had gone to school when the decision was made to close them. Staff at individual schools stayed with students until their parents could pick them up.
At Kentwood Elementary School in the Westchester section of Los Angeles, stunned parents were met by the principal as they came to drop off their kids. Some said they appreciated the district’s decision to take no chances with the safety of their children. Some parents said they should have been sent emails or have received a robocall explaining what happened.
“It’s kind of weird. We expect school every day,” said Dunia Najarro, who had planned on dropping off her 5-year-old son Ivan. “They need to tell us what’s going on.”
Joumana Saba, who had brought her sons, ages nine and eight, to Kentwood said she appreciated the district’s decision. She said that these kinds of situations sometimes develop quickly, leaving little opportunity to notify parents in advance.
“I understood it is out of an abundance of caution,” Saba said. “There is no way of knowing.”
In Washington, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the president had been informed of the situation, but that ultimately the decision to close or not to close schools are best left to local law officials.
“I’m not going to stand at this podium and second-guess the decisions made by any law enforcement agency,” Earnest said. “They would know better than anyone else.”
Bacon reported from McLean, Va. Contributing: Kevin Johnson, Gregory Korte, Emily Brown
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