City Council members were generally supportive Tuesday of the decision to close Los Angeles Unified School District campuses in light of an emailed threat, even though the threat may turn out to be a hoax.
Councilwoman Nury Martinez brought her 6-year-old daughter with her to City Hall, telling City News Service she had no choice after learning at the last minute that the girl’s school would be closed for the day.
“As I was getting ready to come to work, I turned on the news and learned that the district had closed the schools so we had to scramble and figure out who would babysit for us,” she said. “We didn’t have a babysitter, so I had to bring her to work.”
Martinez, a former school board member, said she supported the school closures.
“Given the San Bernardino incident, I think everyone in Los Angeles and the L.A. area — we’re just on alert,” she said. “I think the safety of our children comes first, and I think the district did the right thing.
Bomb threats are a regular occurrence at LAUSD schools, according to Councilman Jose Huizar, who was on the LAUSD board from 2001-2005, including two years as its president.
“It is part of life at a school district, at a school,” Huizar told CNS. “When I was there, we would assess the situation,” and depending on the “gravity or how real the threats seemed, or how credible,” a single school would be closed.
But he does not recall an entire district being shut down, so “this is a first, it seems,” he said.
He said when threats were directed just at one school, there would be a briefing from the school police chief to determine how legitimate the threat was, and the superintendent would meet individually with LAUSD board members or hold a meeting.
Given that the latest threat was made against multiple schools and in light of its potentially international nature, he hopes “this decision wasn’t done in a vacuum, because obviously the federal and state government can bring in additional resources (who) are much more familiar with these types of threats, if they are indeed coming from an international source.”
Huizar said while it is concerning “that we will now be living in a fearful society that any bomb threat may create a similar situation,” he supports the district’s decision to close its schools.
“I would ask the public to understand that given the circumstances of recent activities of San Bernardino and international events, that this inconvenience that may have been caused, is all done to protect the lives of our students.”
But he said people should not “live in fear either.”
Despite the potential that the email was a hoax, and searching all of the district’s schools is a “huge undertaking,” Huizar said “it’s also a learning moment, where procedures may be refined, where we can learn what went right, what went wrong.”
Councilman Gil Cedillo said he had “no qualms with the decisions made by the LAUSD,” saying it was prompted by a desire to be vigilant amid a charged atmosphere influenced by the prevalence of hate speech. Cedillo said there is a connection between hate speech and the rise in mass shootings, hate-inspired beatings and other dangerous events.
“We live in a different world today, and for a variety of reasons,” he said. “There is this hate-mongering that goes on everyday by people who are trying to be the president of our country.”
“And there are radio stations and television stations and social media, just constantly promoting hate, which makes this a very dangerous time,” he said.
Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck met in closed session Tuesday with the City Council to give members a briefing on the LAUSD situation.
Councilman Bob Blumenfield said he has not read the email that led to the school closures, but was given a description of it during the closed- session security briefing with the chief and the mayor.
He declined to pass judgment on whether the district should have taken the email seriously.
“The Monday morning quarter-backing hasn’t started yet. I mean, that’s when you assess the decision and whether it was made appropriately,” he said. “I’m not going to put myself in the shoes of Superintendent (Ramon) Cortines and the school board at this time.”
He added that he “wouldn’t characterize it as just some random email either.”
“There was obviously more to it than that, because they get crazy emails all the time.”
Blumenfield also said it would be unfair to equate the email sent to the New York school district to the one sent to members of the LAUSD, saying he does not think “two situations are exactly comparable.”
“I don’t think it’s fair to say that we both got the same information and acted differently,” he said. “I don’t think it was that simple.”
Prior to the security briefing in City Council, Beck and Garcetti also met privately with Council President Herb Wesson and Cedillo in a room behind the council chamber. Wesson told CNS Cedillo happened to be with him at the time, and this was “not a pre-meeting.” They only discussed the threat superficially, then “asked how everything else was doing,” Wesson said.
— City News Service
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