Crisis counselors were deployed at Los Angeles Unified School District schools today to foster calm a day after the LAUSD’s more than 900 campuses were kept shuttered in response to what turned out to be a bogus bomb threat.
Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck and Sheriff Jim McDonnell said all their personnel will be in uniform today and patrols will be stepped up around LAUSD campuses to help allay any uneasiness among students and parents.
“As you know, L.A. Unified always puts student safety first,” LAUSD Chief Deputy Superintendent Michelle King said in a statement after the schools reopened. “I want to reassure students, parents, guardians, teachers and other employees that our schools are safe.”
In addition to the deployment of crisis counselors, “teachers have been provided lesson plans on how to help youngsters who may feel a little anxious or afraid” today, King added.
Superintendent of Schools Ramon Martinez decided on Tuesday’s closures — and an exhaustive security search of all campuses — after a threat was received making reference to bombs, weapons and other destructive devices planted on campuses throughout the district. A nearly identical threat was received in New York City, where officials deemed it not credible and kept schools open.
New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, a former Los Angeles police chief, derided the L.A. closures as a “significant overreaction.” But California officialdom — both in the law enforcement and political communities — erected a solid front in support of the 83-year-old Cortines, who is due to retire next year, as he’s done once before.
Cortines said he acted out of an abundance of caution in the aftermath of terror strikes in Paris and San Bernardino, and both L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and Beck expressed strong support for the decision.
“I think it’s important to take this precaution based on what has happened recently and what has happened in the past,” he said, speaking less than two weeks after a U.S. citizen of Pakistani background and his Pakistani wife killed 14 people in San Bernardino in the deadliest terror strike on U.S soil since 9/11. They were later killed battling police.
“There will always be temptation after a day like today to increase the blame and the anger and the vitriol and the suspicion, but what we saw today across Los Angeles was a community turning toward each other, not against each other,” LAUSD Board of Education President Steve Zimmer said Tuesday.
“And that is the spirit with which we invite all of our families, all of our kids, all of our teachers back into the LAUSD public schools tomorrow in the hope that we will never, ever have to have another day like today, and that through our children, the hope of a much better tomorrow will carry the day tomorrow, next week, next year and to our future.”
Officials said the threat came via email, apparently from or routed through Frankfurt, Germany. Beck later said the email likely originated from somewhere much closer than Europe.
Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, said he saw the email and that the author “claims to be an extremist Muslim who has teamed up with local jihadists.” He said the email referenced bombs or possible nerve agents and suggested there were about 32 people involved in possibly planting the devices.
“The text of the email does not demonstrate that the author has studied Islam or has any particular understanding of Islam,” Sherman said.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank and the ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said the threat appeared to be a hoax.
“While we continue to gather information about the threat made against the Los Angeles and New York school departments, the preliminary assessment is that it was a hoax or something designed to disrupt school districts in large cities,” he said Tuesday.
Tuesday’s closures applied to all LAUSD campuses — more than 900 of them. The district is home to about 200 charter schools that were also affected, along with dozens of educational centers. Zimmer said more than 1,500 educational sites were searched Tuesday. The district, the nation’s second biggest, serves an estimated 700,000 students.
Most other Southland schools outside the LAUSD remained open, although some Catholic schools run by the Los Angeles Archdiocese were closed because of their proximity to LAUSD campuses. Diocese officials said that decision had been left to individual school principals.
Schiff, in reporting that the threat appears to have been a hoax, did not weigh in on the propriety of closing the nation’s second-largest school district — creating the type of disruption that is the primary goal of terrorists.
“The safety of our communities and particularly our young people is paramount,” Schiff said. “At the same time, in an environment in which it is very easy to transmit threats, real and otherwise, and when fear and disruption may be the goal as well as the effect, communities and law enforcement will need to make a difficult judgment as to how to respond in a variety of circumstances.”
Officials with the FBI and U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were taking part in the investigation triggered by the threat.
In Fullerton, Sunny Hills High School was closed today in response to the reported discovery of a threatening note taped to a door. No other schools in that area were immediately affected.