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L.A. schools threat disrupts many people’s daily routines

Children play on a snow hill at Studio City Recreation Center, which offered free childcare Tuesday.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

About an hour before classes were to begin Tuesday morning, more than 1 million Los Angeles parents, grandparents, guardians and students began searching for a Plan B.

Los Angeles Unified officials had received an attack threat and shut down the nation’s second-largest school system. Across the district’s 900 campuses, spanning 710 square miles from San Pedro to Porter Ranch, people shifted into problem-solving mode and began texting, emailing, making calls.

Some took the day off to tend to their children, others left their children with relatives and others brought their displaced students to work.

D.J. Jenkins, a Studio City pastor, got a call about the decision from a church member about 6:30 a.m. He immediately started contacting other parents at his first-grader’s school, Carpenter Community Charter, and told them he could watch their children if they had to work.

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Luckily, he said, the Studio City Recreation Center announced it would offer free care Tuesday, so his wife, who works there, brought his daughter and two other children with her for the day.

Ashley Halverson was able to take the day off from her commercial real-estate job to care for her two children, who attend Beethoven Elementary and Paul Revere Middle School. Her husband, Brandon, headed to his job with a post-production company. He said the owner emailed all employees, alerting them that they might need to pick up additional duties for co-workers who stayed home with their children.

“Of course, it’s a mad scramble to figure out who would take care of the kids,” Brandon said.

But he was not among those questioning local officials’ decision. “I’d prefer to be inconvenienced than send my kids into a dangerous situation.”

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Some employers set up impromptu child-care centers, including Pinnacle Designs, a souvenir importer in San Fernando. The room was stocked with cider, hot cocoa, movies, coloring books and board games brought in by staff members. Only two children ended up using the service, but the company said it would continue to be flexible and have the center available if schools did not reopen Wednesday.

“What are people going to do? They’re going to use their sick time and vacation time,” said Alayna Nord, the firm’s director of human resources. “We’d rather them save that to spend time with their families.”

Along Evergreen Avenue in Boyle Heights, Rafael Velazquez kept his 9-year-old daughter, Yesenia, with him as he hawked fruit snacks and chocolate bars early Tuesday after learning that classes were canceled at her school, Euclid Avenue Elementary.

Velazquez, who sells candy on the side while out of work for dialysis treatment, said he had planned to stay home with Yesenia after hearing the news, fearful that whoever made the threats would carry them out. But she convinced him they weren’t in danger, and that she wanted to spend the day on a walk with her dad.

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Dulce, Dulce!” Yesenia called out to anyone within earshot. “Un dólar!”

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Cathy Bobadilla decided not to tell her two children why classes were canceled at Walnut Park Elementary, afraid they would become too anxious — especially after they had seen news coverage of the San Bernardino massacre.

Although her 9-year-old son peppered her with questions about what was happening as he watched the district’s televised news conference with his mother Tuesday, Bobadilla just told him authorities were investigating ways to keep children safe. Her children went to the backyard to play.

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“I wanted to keep him calm. He’s a very worried little kid,” she said. “I try not to tell him too much.”

Among students, the closures stirred a range of reactions.

At Garvanza Elementary in Highland Park, 10-year-old Bobby Crevelli captured his in one word: “Yiperee!”

Older students tended to take a more sober position.

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Jose Chavez was halfway to Franklin High School in Highland Park around 7:20 a.m. Tuesday when his mother called and told him and his two brothers, Kevin and Joel, to come home.

The three students walked their mother to work and then came home to help babysit their 2-year-old nephew. They said they weren’t happy to miss school, especially since the delay probably means they will have to continue to study for finals even though they are unsure when they will actually take the tests.

Kevin Chavez, a junior, had a similar view. He had stayed up until 12:30 Tuesday morning reading “The Crucible” for his literature final. “It would be better to just take the test now,” he said.

Luis Valente, a South East High student, said he was relieved by the reprieve, since it would give him more time to study for three finals that had been scheduled.

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“I’m going to play some ‘Mario Kart’ and cuddle with my dog while watching ‘Friends’ all over again,” he wrote to The Times. “And I guess I’ll fit in studying somewhere there too.”

The closure had an upside for other Los Angeles residents, as well.

Next door to Mount Washington Elementary School, David Bailey and Elizabeth Gerber looked almost giddy as they pretended to toss their 4-year-old daughter, Greta, into their Subaru on Tuesday morning for her daily trip to preschool

They had bought a big Craftsman-style house overlooking the school in August, and were still learning to deal with the near-gridlock on the neighborhood’s winding hillside streets each morning as impatient parents and carpool dads from around northeast Los Angeles deliver children to class.

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“It feels like winter break,” Gerber said as Greta fidgeted in her car seat.

Grinning, Bailey took in the uncharacteristically empty street. “You could pull a U-turn this morning,” he said.

teresa.watanabe@latimes.com

Twitter: @teresawatanabe

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Times staff writers Stephen Ceasar, Hailey Branson-Potts, Samantha Masunaga and Bob Sipchen contributed to this report.

MORE ON THE L.A. SCHOOLS SHUTDOWN

L.A. schools to reopen Wednesday; threat was ‘not credible’

Unprecedented school closures leave L.A. inconvenienced, annoyed but undaunted

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L.A. Unified defends decision to close schools amid criticism


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