Two Southern California school districts were giving conflicting messages over the weekend as they attempted to guide parents through a scare touched off last week by a state and federal investigation of a music specialist suspected of contaminating musical instruments with semen.
Responding to the probe, the Saugus Union School District in Los Angeles County sought help from parents to collect evidence in the investigation, which it said "is focusing on workshops where students made 'flutes' out of PVC pipe with a specific individual."
The message, signed by Supt. Joan Lucid, included a list of seven locations where the specialist, whose identity has not been disclosed, gave workshops and assemblies.
Parents whose children brought home the instruments were advised to "place the flute in a paper bag, not a plastic one, and call the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station." Paper was considered less likely to damage evidence.
Sheriff's Sgt. Mike Konecny said Sunday that deputies were dispatched on "at least one or two calls" to pick up flutes.
The district said locations where a different specialist gave the same workshop were not listed because they were not part of the investigation.
A message posted by the Fullerton School District in Orange County advised parents not to collect flutes.
"Our district has checked with our Chief of Police, from Fullerton, and the flutes from the program do not need to be tested or collected for the Police Department or Department of Justice," a message posted Saturday morning said.
Fullerton police spokesman Sgt. Jon Radus declined to comment further Sunday, saying the investigation is being conducted by the California Dept. of Justice.
The state attorney general's office told the Los Angeles Times in a statement Saturday that it was "supporting" an investigation by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, in part by working with local police and the schools to collect the instruments.
It was not clear why the Postal Inspection Service was involved. Calls to the agency from The Times were not immediately returned.
Messages from The Times to officials in the school districts were also not immediately returned.
The press office for the California attorney general elaborated on the statement Sunday, only to say that "school districts and local law enforcement will be providing further information to parents regarding the collection process of the instruments."
The investigation was disclosed Saturday by the Orange County Register, which reported that the instructor, representing an organization called Flutes Across the World, worked with students in at least four school districts.
The group's website had been disabled Sunday. An archived version of the group's website describes it as a tax-exempt organization based in Ojai, Calif. It shows pictures of children holding up brightly decorated flutes and describes the group's activities as educational and school programs, national and international music missions, community and family night events and summer camps and festivals. A solicitation says every $10 donated buys 30 mouthpieces for a whole class. A message left at the phone number on the site was not immediately returned.
The Register said the Fountain Valley School District and Newport-Mesa and Capistrano Unified districts had also sent messages to parents. But no notice was readily apparent on either district's website Sunday.
The investigation prompted a flurry of comments on the Santa Clarita Community Facebook page.
"My daughter participated last year at North Park Elementary!" wrote Erica Pena Socarras. "This is disturbing!"
"My daughter had this class!" Michael Smith posted. "The district needs to have the kids tested immediately!!!"
Both the Saugus and Fullerton districts emphasized in their messages that the sessions with students were all supervised by district personnel.