All Los Angeles Unified schools closed due to ‘credible threat’

December 15, 2015
Parents take their children return home from school early Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Los Angeles. All schools in the vast Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second largest, have been ordered closed due to an electronic threat Tuesday. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Parents take their children return home from school early Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Los Angeles. All schools in the vast Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest, have been ordered closed due to an electronic threat Tuesday. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Responding to an “electronic threat” that may have been emailed to the district from overseas, all Los Angeles Unified School District campuses were closed today and a massive effort began to search the roughly 900 schools in the district.

Officials in New York City said schools there received the same threat, but officials did not believe it was credible, and campuses remained open. New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, former chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, said LAUSD officials carried out a “significant overreaction” by shuttering all of the campuses.

The LAUSD closure applied to all campuses — more than 900 of them. The district, the nation’s second biggest, serves more than 700,000 students. Most other Southland schools outside the LAUSD remained open, although there were sporadic reports of some Catholic schools in the Los Angeles Archdiocese being closed because of their proximity to LAUSD campuses.

LAUSD officials would not provide specifics of the threat, which was initially reported by police to have come via telephone, but was later revealed to have come in via email, possibly from Frankfurt, Germany.

School officials told parents to keep their kids home and retrieve those already taken to school by meeting them at the campuses’ reunion gates. Students will be supervised until they are picked up, officials said.

Board of Education President Steve Zimmer said the district was acting “out of an abundance of caution.” He urged parents to negotiate time off to be with kids and called on employers to show maximum flexibility.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said LAUSD students will be able to ride Metro buses and rail lines for free until at least noon today.

Superintendent Ramon Cortines said he has ordered all campuses to be searched today, which promised to require a colossal effort involving a multitude of agencies.

“I want every school searched, to make sure that it is safe for children and safe for staff to be there on Wednesday,” Cortines said. “I will issue a statement late this afternoon after the (school police) chief, Chief (Steve) Zipperman has informed me that the schools have been searched, and it is OK.”

Zipperman said the threat was “electronic” and it “mentioned the safety of our schools.” “As a result of that threat, the Los Angeles School Police Department, as well as the Los Angeles Police Department and the FBI were notified, and right now, the threat is still being analyzed,” Zipperman said. “In an abundance of caution, as Superintendent Cortines has indicated, we have chosen to close our schools today until we can be absolutely sure that our campuses are safe.”

Officials with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were also taking part in the investigation. Cortines said he wants administrators to work with law enforcement to make a plan to search the campuses and facilities today and report back to him. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was assisting in the effort to search schools.

He said parents have been asked to pick up their students, and he vowed that “no child will be left alone.”

Cortines said he ordered the closures because he was not going to take a chance given recent terror strikes in Paris and San Bernardino.

“I think its 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 couple — 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.”

Although no specifics of the threat have been released, Bratton told reporters in New York that the threat officials received there mentioned “Allah,” but the word wasn’t capitalized — providing a clue that the threat might be a hoax.

The LAUSD closures came on a day when finals were scheduled at high schools, leading some students to speculate that a student fearing exams was involved, according to broadcast reports.

The bulk of other Southland school districts announced that classes were continuing as normal, although some, such as Pasadena, said they would have stepped-up security on campuses.

The LAUSD set up an information hotline for parents at (213) 241-2064.

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