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A long day across LAUSD as tension and investigators visit schools

Mike Szymanski | December 15, 2015

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Walter Reed Middle School, by noon, it was empty.

Walter Reed Middle School in Studio City, has “zero periods,” when students with electives go to classes before school begins. When teachers arrived at the school early today to prepare for their regular class time, they were greeted by their colleagues saying, “Leave the school, we’re on Level 1 alert. This is serious!”

Minutes before school was supposed to begin, Reed’s principal Jeanne Gamba issued a robo-call alerting parents that all schools will be closed and parents are being asked to pick up their children.

All across the 1,100-plus traditional and charter schools run by LAUSD, procedures were surprisingly similar today as law enforcement authorities checked campuses to see if an email threatening violence across the district was real or a hoax. It was a long and trying day, testing nerves of parents and instincts of authorities with a “serious threat” of mass violence just two weeks after the terrorist attack in San Bernardino.

Across town from Walter Reed in the southern part of the country’s second-largest school district, principal Tracy Washington,of Locke Early Education Center was standing outside her school, not allowed to go in herself. She was able to alert her families through her cell phone.

“You do what you have to do; we’re here for the students,” Washington said. “We take our orders from the district, and they said, don’t go into the school. It’s a state of emergency, that’s it.”

The first alert was sounded at 6:25 a.m. when the six local district superintendents were told about a threat and that schools should be closed. At that time, principals, plant managers and building and grounds workers were told to go to the school to make sure students wouldn’t enter.

At 6:32 a.m., a robo-call went out in both English and Spanish to families throughout the district asking children to stay home. At the same time, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti asked that the buses and subways be free for students who were going to try to get home.

The message said, in part, “As a result of a threat received, the Superintendent has directed all schools to be closed today to ensure the safety of all students . . . The safety of students is the District’s number one priority. Thank you for your attention to this communication and to your support of our efforts to keep our schools safe and secure.” Some homes reported receiving three calls.

Although there wasn’t a threat to private schools, some parochial schools closed as a precaution, and some schools remained open, but with caution. A few private schools limited the outdoor activities and canceled athletic events for the day.

By 7:40 a.m. robo-calls went to school employees, telling them to stay home. People working at LA Unified’s downtown headquarters were told to report to work as usual. Employees in the emergency Dawn Patrol program were told to report to their assigned schools.

Brian Bauer, the executive director from Granada Hills Charter High School, had his own dog teams from the school police already scouring the school grounds. He heard earlier about the school closures at about 6:30 am from city councilman Mitch Englander.

By 11:30, the district set up a hotline: 213-241-2064. In addition, half-hour updates were provided at and on KLCS-TV.

By noon, the district officials said that all students had been picked up as school plant managers continued working with one California Highway Patrol officer, one Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department member and one school police officer at every site to seek out anything suspicious.

The Beyond the Bell and all after-school activities were canceled at 12:50 p.m. Most of the schools in the district were on a shortened day anyway for afternoon teacher meetings.

By 1:30 pm, 13 police agencies were helping out with the school sweeps. Los Angeles Unified School Police was the lead agency along with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department; California Highway Patrol; the Departments of Police Services at the University of California and Cal State-Northridge; and the police departments from Los Angeles, Long Beach, San Fernando, Bell, Gardena, Hawthorne, Huntington Park, Inglewood and South Gate.


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