Los Angeles School District closed for ‘credible terror threat’

Posted at 8:34 AM, Dec 15, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-15 12:21:56-05

LOS ANGELES – Classes were canceled Tuesday for the Los Angeles Unified School District after what the district’s superintendent called a “rare” threat that comes amid new concerns about security nationwide.

An “electronic threat” received early Tuesday prompted the decision, school district police Chief Steve Zipperman said, adding that the threat “is still being analyzed.”

District superintendent Ramon Cortines explained the “message” referred to backpacks and “other packages.” He said many schools were threatened, though none by name. The threat was toward students in schools (as opposed to on buses).

Cortines noted his school district often receives threats. While he didn’t go into detail, he said recent events — like this month’s massacre in nearby San Bernardino, California; the Paris terror attacks; and heightened concerns about potential terrorism across the United States — factored into the cancellation.

“The circumstances in the neighboring San Bernardino, I think what has happened in the nation, I think what happened internationally” played into the decision, Cortines said. “I, as superintendent, am not going to take the chance with the life of students.”

The superintendent said he’s asked authorities to search all of the roughly 900 charter and K-12 schools in his district “before the day is over.” He promised a statement Tuesday afternoon that could offer more information about what prompted his decision and lay out what will happen next, including whether classes will be in session Wednesday.

That won’t happen, Cortines insisted, “until I know it’s safe.”

Some already at schools when closures announced

On any given day, running the Los Angeles Unified School District is a complex operation. It has more than 650,000 students enrolled in kindergarten through 12th grade, with some 250,000 more in adult education programs.

Educators are tasked not only with teaching lessons, but nurturing a safe, positive school environment. Then there’s the matter of getting students to and from school as efficiently as possible.

These challenges grew even more complicated when Cortines announced the school closures around 7:15 a.m. PT (10:15 a.m. ET) Tuesday. By then, some facilities had opened, and some students and staff were already there, with others on the way. They’ve all since been asked to go home or, in the case of children, stay under an adult’s watch until someone can come get them.

Cortines pointed out that district schools often go into lockdown in response to nearby real or potential dangers. The threat in this case was “not to one school, two schools, three schools. It was many schools, not specifically identified.”

“That’s the reason I took the action that I did,” he said.

In addition to school police, the Los Angeles Police Department and FBI are also investigating. Zipperman said that, as far as he knows, the Los Angeles district is the only school system in the country to receive such a threat.

“We are in the process of validating and vetting to determine what if any validity it has,” said Jorge Villegas, an assistant chief for the Los Angeles police. “As you can imagine, we take all threats seriously. Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our kids.”