L.A. Unified defends decision to close schools amid criticism
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)
Los Angeles officials on Tuesday defended the decision to close schools after receiving a “credible threat” of violence involving backpacks and packages left at campuses.
The statements from city and school officials at a news conference came as New York authorities said they had received a similar threat to their schools but concluded that it was not credible and decided to keep campuses open.
“These threats are made to promote fear. ... We cannot allow us to raise the levels of fear,” New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton tweeted. “We are very comfortable that this is not a credible threat.”
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said at the news conference: “I think it’s irresponsible, based on facts that have yet to be determined, to criticize that decision. All of us make tough choices. All of us have the same goal in mind, to keep the kids safe.”
In a briefing to Police Commissioners on Tuesday afternoon, Beck described the emails that he said multiple members of the school board received Monday night.
The threat was very broad, the chief said, but also specific: It named all of the LAUSD schools, implying high schools were the primary target. The attack would happen Tuesday, the email said. It claimed explosives had already been planted and, after they went off, people “with ISIS connections” would use AK-47s and other guns “to cause further loss of life.”
“It was also in very good English – which is not a good sign,” Beck said in an interview after the meeting. “Most of the hoaxes that I see … have syntax errors, a lot of incomplete sentences, non-sequiturs. So that concerned me.”
Beck said the LAPD advised district officials before they weighed whether schools would stay open, but stressed it was their call to make. He declined to say what he would have done had he been tasked with the same decision.
“It’s easy to second-guess decision-makers when you don’t have to live with the consequences of the decision,” he said. “These decisions are not something you get to do over again if you turn out to be wrong.”
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the emailed threats there were “so generic, so outlandish” that they couldn’t be taken seriously. The threat was addressed to multiple school systems simultaneously and had wording choice and misspellings that suggested it was a hoax, he said.
“It would be a huge disservice to our nation to close down our school system,” De Blasio said.
It remains unclear whether the threats to the New York schools and those in Los Angeles came from the same source.
The L.A. threat appeared to come from Germany, according to one source with knowledge of the matter. However, a second law enforcement source cautioned that officials are still trying to determine exactly where the threat came from.
The L.A. threat was made in electronic form to numerous but unspecified campuses, officials said. As a result, authorities made the decision to close all Los Angeles Unified school campuses for the day.
“I think it’s important to take this precaution based on what has happened recently and what has happened in the past,” said Ramon Cortines, superintendent of the L.A. Unified School District.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest also addressed the decision to close L.A. schools during a news conference.
“Local officials are ultimately responsible for making the decision
they believe, based on their knowledge of the community, makes the most sense and is consistent with their judgment about the best way to protect the community,’' Earnest said.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) said in a statement the threat appears to be a hoax.
“The preliminary assessment is that it was a hoax or something designed to disrupt school districts in large cities. The investigation is ongoing as to where the threat originated from and who was responsible,” Schiff said.
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