L.A. Unified apologizes for keeping mum about armed man who tried to lure middle school girls off campus
School district officials took the unusual step Wednesday night of offering an unqualified apology to an angry audience of parents.
The administrators told more than 200 parents at Reed Middle School that they had erred in failing to notify them and staff that a man had reportedly approached girls at school and then returned days later in a truck containing an arsenal of illegal weapons.
While insisting that the man posed no threat, officials said they had made the wrong call in keeping parents of students at the Studio City campus in the dark for more than two weeks.
“We’re sorry,” said regional operations administrator Andres E. Chait. “This is something that was inexcusable.”
Russell Polsky, 60, is accused of approaching three girls on Friday, Oct. 5, although the school did not learn about it until the following Monday. That Thursday, Oct. 11, at least one of the girls saw his truck again and alerted the school. An officer confronted Polsky, who was sitting in the passenger seat with a rifle bag next to him in the driver’s seat. When officers saw the weaponry, they arrested Polsky, who did not resist. He pleaded guilty Oct. 24 to one felony weapons count and was sentenced to 16 months in state prison.
Parents learned about the episode from news outlets, which were tipped off by an Oct. 30 Instagram post from the Los Angeles School Police Department.
“We erred on the side of not notifying and that was wrong,” said Linda Del Cueto, regional superintendent for the east San Fernando Valley.
During a meeting that stretched more than three hours, Principal Jeanne Gamba promised a thorough review of school safety measures and immediate steps to make the campus more secure.
Chait did not say whether he or members of his operations team made the mistake, but he said he accepted responsibility for what went wrong. Operations staff had advised Gamba not to send out notifications after each of the incidents involving Polsky, said Del Cueto.
Parents found the district’s explanation difficult to accept.
“We are such a vigilant community,” said Lisa-Marie Richardson, whose son is a Reed seventh-grader. Had word gone out after the first incident, “I would have been looking for a red truck,” she said. “All these parents feel our children were in serious danger.”
Chait conceded that families could have kept an eye out for the suspect: “We left a viable resource on the sidelines.”
“We should have told you on the 8th,” he told parents. “We should have told you on the 11th.”
Not notifying them the first time was simply a mistake, he said. All the surrounding schools and school communities also should have been alerted about a potentially dangerous person. The second time, he said, was a decision based on the suspect’s nonthreatening demeanor, his rapid arrest and his explanation.
Polsky said he’d come from New Mexico after his father died, and that the guns had belonged to his father, said school police Lt. Chris Stevens. He claimed he had no place to put the weapons other than his truck after he was no longer able to stay in his father’s old apartment, which was nearby. In fact, he appeared to be living out of his truck, Stevens said.
The guns included an illegal assault rifle and an illegally modified shotgun, which was loaded. An illegal magazine clip would have allowed for the firing of 60 high-powered rounds in rapid succession.
Stevens said Polsky’s story about his father’s death checked out.
This explanation was not entirely reassuring to parents or teachers, including veteran math teacher Anne Wolfstein.
“I was infuriated,” she said. “Let me know immediately.”
At one point, a parent’s anger turned to tears as she upbraided the administrators.
“I don’t know how you sleep at night,” said Ami Schulenberg, who has three daughters at the school. “You should be ashamed.... You knew a man was luring girls into cars and you didn’t tell us.”
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