Anxious parents send children back to L.A. schools as safety concerns linger
Outside the gates of a Highland Park elementary school Wednesday morning, parents kissed their children goodbye and lingered to watch as they scampered inside. Students carried class projects of handcrafted tepees, and a teacher’s aide stood outside welcoming students with a cheerful smile.
A day after a bomb threat caused an unprecedented shutdown of the nation’s second-largest school district, Aldama Elementary was back to normal — along with more than 900 other Los Angeles Unified campuses that serve 640,000 students. Authorities concluded that the threat was a hoax and reopened all campuses, a decision most parents and students seemed to support even as they expressed some concern about safety.
“We’re not going to stop bringing our children to school, because that would jeopardize their education,” said Joana Munoz, whose 5-year-old daughter, Yaretzi, attends Aldama. “All we can do is pray and cross our fingers and hope that nothing bad happens to the school.”
Such sendoffs, smiles and hugs were replayed throughout the district, which reported no disruptions in getting the system up and running again. Los Angeles Unified school police beefed up their patrols, with an additional 25 detectives and others on special assignment redeployed to join about 200 sworn officers at schools; all were ordered to wear their uniforms for high visibility, L.A. School Police Chief Steven Zipperman said in a text message. He added that the Los Angeles Police Department and Sheriff’s Department have also committed to extra patrols around schools.
All principals were given district handouts on how to help students cope with crisis: Let students share their feelings. Maintain daily routines. Be calm and optimistic.
District officials also deployed extra staff members, including crisis counselors, to schools.
Some walked the halls to reassure students as needed, while others set up in libraries to offer a listening ear to any student needing to talk, district spokeswoman Gayle Pollard-Terry said.
Sergio Corral, Aldama’s principal, said he deliberately wore his colorful Christmas tie — featuring Santa and reindeer — to help students move past this week’s shutdown and refocus on the school and the upcoming holidays.
Students cross Fountain Avenue as they return to Thomas Starr King Middle School in East Hollywood on Wednesday morning.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Students return to Thomas Starr King Middle School in East Hollywood on Wednesday morning.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Tiffany Hooper drops off her 8-year-old daughter Leah Hooper with a hug at Germain Street Elementary School in Chatsworth.(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Students return to Franklin High School in Highland Park on Wednesday, a day after all LAUSD campuses were closed by a threat.(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles School Police officers Alex Donoso, left, and Heriberto Valdez at Franklin High School on Wednesday morning as schools reopen after Tuesday’s closure.(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Student board a bus in front of Franklin High School in Los Angeles as schools reopen on Wednesday.(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Sunny Vargas, 16, left, Carlos Bello, 16, and Natalie Matossian, 14, raise flags outside Franklin High School as Los Angeles schools reopened on Wednesday.(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
A memorial of candles marks the spot where Andres Perez, 17, of Montebello was struck and killed by a city truck as crossed the street near his school at the corner of Avenue 60 and Figueroa Street in Highland Park.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
L.A. Unifed Police Officer Jose Zamora looks inside a classroom while conducting a safety check at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Los Angeles.(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles school police search Breed Street Elementary in Boyle Heights.(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Shortly after L.A. Unified announced Tuesday’s school closures, a 17-year-old male student was fatally struck by a city service truck while crossing a Highland Park street. The teen was near Avenue 60 and Figueroa Street at about 7:30 a.m. when he was hit, Los Angeles Police Officer Jane Kim said.(Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)
A police officer secures the Robert F. Kennedy Learning Center in Los Angeles after an email threat forced the closure of all LAUSD schools on Tuesday.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles TImes)
Elementary schoolchildren play on a snow hill at the Studio City Recreation Center in Studio City. All were from area public and private schools that were closed Tuesday.(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Elementary schoolchildren play on a snow hill at the Studio City Recreation Center in Studio City after all Los Angeles Unified School District campuses and several private schools were closed after a security threat.(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Unified School District Supertintendent Ramon Cortines talks to reporters about the closure of LAUSD campuses.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Venice High School principal Dr. Oryla Wiedoeft talks with 17-year-old twin brothers Michael and Erik Sanchez about the closure of schools in the LAUSD on Dec. 15.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Venice High School senior Bernadette Rios, 17, waits for her mother to pick her up after officials closed all LAUSD campuses on Dec. 15.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
School buses are idle in the LAUSD’s Gardena garage after officials closed all campuses in the district following a “credible threat’ of violence on Dec. 15.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
A Los Angeles School Police officer checks in with officials at the LAUSD’s Gardena garage, where school buses are parked Dec. 15 as officials investigate a threat against the district.(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
El Camino Real Charter Academy in Woodland Hills is among the LAUSD campuses closed on Dec. 15.(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
El Camino Real Charter Academy freshman Nazanin Nayeri, 15, calls home to be picked up from the Woodland Hills school on Dec. 15 after being informed that classes were canceled due to a threat.(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Ben Gertner, principal of Theodore Roosevelt High School, center; Jose Espinoza, right, principal of Math, Science, Technology Magnet Academy; and a volunteer stand outside locked school gates on Dec. 15.(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Law enforcement officers gather at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in response to the “credible threat” of violence directed at Los Angeles Unified schools on Dec. 15.(KTLA)
Hale Charter Academy Principal Chris Perdigao tells parents that the Woodland Hills campus is closed.(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Idle school buses at a bus yard in Gardena.(KTLA)
The Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts is one of the LAUSD campuses closed.(KTLA)
Gardena Senior High School is one of the LAUSD campuses closed.(KTLA)
“We’re trying to go back to routines.… Kids seem pretty happy and pretty normal today,” he said.
Corral said he met with teachers Wednesday morning to share the district’s guidance about supporting students. On Tuesday, two officers from the Los Angeles city and school police departments had searched the entire campus and found nothing out of the ordinary. “No open windows. No mysterious backpacks. No doors unlocked or ajar. Everything was status quo,” Corral said.
Of 46 parents, students, teachers and community members who shared their thoughts about the school reopening with The Times on Wednesday, all but eight said they supported students returning to class, but some asked for more security.
“They should be back at school, and K-9 bomb dogs should be on every campus,” Michele Birke, who identified herself as a grandparent, wrote on The Times website.
Celene Figueroa, a Dearborn Charter Academy parent, said she was concerned that school police are not stationed at elementary schools. But she said she brought her children to school Wednesday so as not to keep “feeding my fear” at home and fully backed the closure.
At Thomas Starr King Middle School in Los Feliz, Madeline Harmon and Lian Macdonough dropped off their children and lingered outside as they noted the lack of any visible security presence at the school.
“Do we feel safe? No. How do I know there’s not a bomb on the soccer field right now?” Harmon said.
She said she drove around the school and to the Los Angeles Police Department headquarters Tuesday, and felt frustrated by what she sees as a lack of concern about children’s safety.
“I saw so many cops just sitting in their cars. Why aren’t they patrolling the schools?”
Raquel Mancilla, 15, a sophomore at San Pedro High, said her mother asked her to text throughout the day to offer assurance that she is safe.
“My mom is really worried,” Raquel said. “She was talking about it all this morning while she was dropping me off. She was telling me to be careful.”
She said she feels safe at school but couldn’t stop thinking that someone may again threaten the district and cause another school shutdown.
“It’s really messed up we got to worry about that,” she said.
Angie Guinto, a parent at Yorkdale Elementary, said she would have preferred for classes to be canceled for the rest of the week. “I don’t feel 100% safe leaving her. They said there would be police here just in case, but there isn’t anybody here,” she said. “I have to go to work now and worry about her. I just want peace of mind.”
Guinto planned on keeping her daughter Kirsten out of school Wednesday, but reluctantly agreed after the girl pleaded her case.
“It’s science fun day,” the girl said. “I really wanted to come to school.”
Amanda Arreola, bundled in her puffy pink winter jacket, stood on her tiptoes and reached up to her mother, making the sign of the cross. Her mother smiled and did the same to her, giving her a kiss on the forehead as she saw her off.
“I love you,” the 9-year-old said. Then she bounced away onto the playground, blowing kisses as she went.
Times staff writer Frank Shyong contributed to this report.
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