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LA officials defend closing of schools even if threat is a hoax

Mike Szymanski | December 15, 2015

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CortinesPressConferenceLos Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti made it very clear: He didn’t close the schools. Neither did the police chief, nor the county sheriff.

That decision was made by LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines, who was supposed to be on his way to retirement this week.

“I made the decision to close the schools,” Cortines said at a morning press conference, flanked by the leaders of the city, the police chief, the sheriff and the school board.

Already seeming to anticipate criticism for causing such a commotion across the city by shutting down the schools, Garcetti said, “Decisions need to be made in a matter of minutes.” He was concerned that if this threat turned out to be a simple scare he doesn’t want it to result in people not speaking up the next time a threat may occur.

“We want freedom and liberty, but also to be safe,” the mayor said, referring people to the Los Angeles tipline iWatch.

The city was put in a Level 1 alert, and Garcetti said, “It is my number one priority keeping the city safe, whether or not anything happens.”

Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell also touted Cortines’s brave decision “to ensure that 700,000 young people are safe.”

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck pointed out, “It’s very easy in hindsight to criticize the decision when you have no responsibility.” He said that Cortines’s decision was based on solid facts to make the determination. “Southern California has been through a lot in recent weeks,” Beck said, alluding to the mass shootings in San Bernardino.

Board member Mónica García said, “No one takes closing the district lightly, it’s a massive undertaking. Believe me, this decision was not taken lightly.”

UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl said he was awakened around 6:30 in the morning by a call from assistant superintendent Michelle King and told about the school shut-down. Within a few minutes, school board superintendent Steve Zimmer also called.

“They didn’t have many details but said there was a credible threat, and I trust their judgment on the issue,” said Caputo-Pearl, who spent much of the day at district headquarters. “I’m here to help out any way we can.”

Zimmer said he was impressed with how the different agencies throughout the city reacted to the threat. “I have never been prouder to be a Los Angeleno than I have been in the last four hours,” he said at the morning press conference. “This is not an easy situation. The only thing that’s more important than our education is the safety of our children.”

School board member George McKenna said that the day off from school was an educational experience. “It isn’t wasted time, we’re going through the educational process right now. Teach your children we wanted to do this on their behalf.”

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