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Parents, educators scramble as law enforcement checks for threats at 1,000 schools

Law enforcement officials are working to clear more than 1,000 schools after an electronic threat prompted the Los Angeles Unified School District to cancel classes on Tuesday

Sheri Warner is the principal of The City School, a charter middle and high school in west Los Angeles. After hearing of the closures from the media, she called the school district to confirm reports.

She's since been in contact with the district's central office and said they've been quick to answer her questions. But she fears that even if schools reopen, families will continue to keep their students home on Wednesday. 

 "I'm worried that parents are going to be freaked out over this and kids as well," she said. "And for the rest of the week, we might not have sufficient attendance." 

Werner says she is working with the Los Angeles police department to give her campus clearance to reopen. She does not want her students to miss another day in class. 

At an early press conference, LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortinescalled for a search for bombs and other threats in the schools to ensure the safe return of the students.

At the Hollywood Primary Center, two LAPD detectives arrived at about 9 a.m., followed about half an hour later by two officers, according to the principal. The officers walked through the school and searched the campus for anything suspicious, as school officials had promised.

“We made sure that the campus was secure, that there was no unknown box or backpack,” principal Dona Lawrie said.

Her pre-school to third-grade campus has about 24 rooms, 16 of them classrooms. The search was quick — it took about 15 minutes, Lawrie said.

The school district, she said, has asked her to stay on site until notified otherwise. Lawrie said her day would typically end at about 6 p.m. when her after-school program ends.

The district hasn't yet confirmed when they will decide whether schools will reopen Wednesday. 

Former LAPD sergeant Tim Anderson, who was active for nearly 30 years, told KPCC he couldn't recall another incident that affected the entire school district to this extent.

"My hat goes off to L.A. city school police because they've got the brunt of this responsibility, and it's not only evaluating the threat and searching the schools to make them safe, but it's the impact of the political implications, dealing with the public, dealing with the parents and so forth," he said.

According to the school district's website, it began alerting parents and guardians at about 6:30 a.m. Some students were already in school, and their parents were asked to pick them up at the school’s reunion center. As of 12:30 p.m., the district announced that all students had been picked up from school. 

KPCC spoke with a handful of parents who said they heard about the district-wide closure from non-official sources.

Sara Reeve, whose daughter is a third grader at the Citizens of the World Charter School in Hollywood, heard about the closure while listening to KPCC. Her husband was already en route to school with their daughter. 

Reeve said that she didn’t get a call “despite our charter school having a system that is supposed to reach out.” A friend who home-schools her own children offered to take in Reeve’s daughter for the day.

“I needed to come into the office late,” said Reeve. “One of my staff members has to work from home today, due to the closure of her daughter's school.”

Magadelena Prado, a stay-at-home mom who lives in Eagle Rock, said she organized a play date for her friends’ kids at Eagle Rock Park. Along with her three kids, she watched three more so their parents could work. She said she thinks LAUSD made the right call.
"I’m glad that they took the precautions and that our children are safe, but we as parents have to have a plan in place for things like this.  Because we’re living in very difficult times," Prado said.

Gabriel Sandoval, who runs a small architecture firm, said he had to bring his five-year-old daughter to work and leave her there with two employees.
"It was kind of a fun thing for them, but yes, it did take time from their and my work day this morning when they had to essentially stop work and keep an eye on my daughter," Sandoval said.

Another parent, Ernest Gutierrez, told KPCC that he heard about the closures from other parents.

“As a military service member, I know firsthand about threats,” said Gutierrez. “Our world is changing and we have to take all threats seriously. If this was a hoax, the quick response from the police and school district did the right thing.”

Like many parents, Gutierrez took the opportunity to explain safety concerns in light of recent events to his children. Al Reitz, whose daughter is a third-grader at Wonderland Avenue Elementary School in Laurel Canyon, talked with his family about responding to emergencies at school Tuesday morning. 

“Tough explaining events these days to an 8-year-old,” said Reitz. “But we are always truthful… We reassured her that we believe that it is most likely a prank and that all the schools and kids are completely safe, but that police are going to double check everything and it was better to have all the kids plan to stay home today.”

Some teachers are planning to speak to their students about safety when they return to school.

Cathy Skubik, a teacher at the Park Western Place Elementary School in San Pedro, said that she’ll focus on people who working to keep them safe. Still, Skubik — who supports Cortines’ decision to cancel classes in the district — said she’s not going to spend too much time on the issue unless it’s that students need to talk. 

“I think adults tend to over-explain and over-talk these things, mostly to assure ourselves,” said Skubik. “Kids live mostly in the moment, we should let them do that. Acknowledge scary things, focus on the helpers, then move on.”

Parents also shared their thoughts with us on KPCC's Facebook page. You can chime in and read more here. 

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This story has been updated.