It’s Not a “Snow Day”….
So…Zebra Pony and I were on the way to work yesterday, when a text comes to my phone. Conveniently, I had pulled off of the freeway, and was in the process of feeding my car its regular diet of 91 octane fuel, which, being a creature of the eighties, it consumes rather rapidly. I read the text…and whereas I had no reason to distrust the teacher who sent it (she is in fact, a good friend), it was so bizarre I immediately went to other methods to confirm what I was reading.
In moments, I had in fact confirmed it. I shouldn’t go in to school, because LAUSD, the second largest school district in the United States, was shutting down for the day due to a terror threat against multiple school sites.
If you had told me, when I started teaching, that this was a possibility…that this could happen, I would have laughed in your face. I would have laughed long, and hard. Instead, I found myself turning the car about, to go get some breakfast, and plan my day. Ironically, a significant portion of the paperwork that has been burying me for the past week was on the laptop sitting on my desk at school…but I quickly made a plan for getting rid of close to thirty other documents that were well within my grasp. While eating my pancakes, I resolved that this would have to be the silver lining, as it were…at least the remainder of my week seemed to have become proportionately easier.
All Los Angeles Unified School District campuses will reopen Wednesday (the day of this post), according to an automated call that I got. Still, this follows, an unprecedented district wide closure after the LAUSD received a threat of violence that law enforcement agencies ultimately determined was “not credible.” It think that it was pretty smart for the district and Mr. Cortines to err on the side of caution, to protect lives regardless of whether there was a bona fide threat or not. However..I have to wonder what kind of fallout might precipitate from what I believe to be a good decision.
What will attendance be like today? How many parents will elect to keep their students home, with the end of the semester merely a few days away? More importantly…have we sent the message to legitimate enemies of the people of the U.S. that they can hold the futures of our children hostage with credibly worded threats? Worse…have we created a situation wherein the next threat might be handled with less alarm, for fear of a hoax? These are both short term and long term concerns that I don’t have the answers to.
I liked some of what Mr. Garcetti, Mayor of Los Angeles, had to say about the day. “Some have used words that I think are inappropriate like ‘hoax’ and other things” to describe the incident, Garcetti said. “Whether it’s criminal mischief, whether it’s somebody testing vulnerabilities of multiple cities, we still do not know enough to say definitively.” That’s really the point here…there was enough credibility to spur action to prevent loss of life, which is always what we should be after.
The threat against the second-largest school district in America was sent via email to a school board member on Monday evening, and was traced back to an IP address in Frankfurt, Germany. District officials announced the districtwide closure shortly before 7 a.m. Tuesday….when I was already on the road to work. The implied threat was “explosive devices,” “assault rifles” and “machine pistols,” according to sources. Just last week my school had a mandatory “active shooter training,” so the level of caution is high about those sorts of keywords. Garcetti, when he spoke at the same morning news conference as the police chief, added that the message included a number of forms of violence and weapons, and stated that “things were already in place to bring that violence about.”
A terrifying thought. Especially when around thirty percent of active shooter incidents in America happen at schools.
School officials initially referred to the threat as “credible.” After a 12-hour investigation, however, the LAPD, LAUSD, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and FBI “have determined that this is not a credible threat,” Police Chief Beck said. A similar threat was made against New York City’s school system on the same day, according to New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. He described the email that the superintendent of his city’s school system received as “almost exactly the same” as the one LAUSD officials were sent. New York didn’t close it’s schools…a decision which also has some things to “sell it.” For one, it stated clearly that the educations of young people could not be put on hold by threat of violence.
Still…I’d be hard pressed to say attendance will be good today. It seems that the school closure had a kind of logic to it. When you ask parents point blank…”If you were Ray Cortines, and knew what he knew at 7AM Tuesday morning, what would you do?”…you get one answer. Universally.
In a live phone interview with KTLA, Rep. Brad Sherman said he had reviewed the emails. The one directed at New York schools included a claim that 138 people were involved, while the one sent to L.A. stated 33 people were involved. “The New York email lacked credibility. There were certain parts of the Los Angeles email that are not credible,” Sherman said. Credible or not…the idea that 33 people in Los Angeles could have been organized against the school system is terrifying. 33 people could do a large amount of damage, if we take into account the “lone gunman” techniques of most school incidents. With those kinds of specific numbers, it seems pretty logical to take such a threat seriously.
“The purpose of terrorism is not necessarily to blow things up, and to cause casualties, but to create fear,” said the congressman, who represents part of the San Fernando Valley. “This email did just that at very little cost to whoever sent it.” I would tend to agree with his assessment….without damaging anything, the city of Los Angeles was plunged into fear and chaos. School systems disrupted, daycare disrupted, hours of work lost…at the cost of an e-mail. Amazing, and horrifying.
LAUSD serves more than 640,000 students throughout the Los Angeles area and in multiple nearby cities, according to its website. The school is comprised of 900 school and 187 public charter schools. Yesterday, all of that ground to a halt. It’s an impressive effect, and hopefully a system can be developed to assess threats rapidly that will prevent it from happening again. My biggest concern, after the initial protection of all students and staff, is that it seems all too easy to shut down the educational system.
That shut down was not trivial, at all. Many students had final exams…in my class, we were working on a final paper. That will be the last item in the gradebook, and is worth a mere five percent of the grade…so not a “killer” by any means. Still…both the students and I have paperwork to do, and in a very important sense, one less day to do it. I stretch my mind to think, how many days like that could be afforded? At what point is the entire system of education potentially at risk, due to the basic need to keep students safe.
For now…it’s just one day, a unique occurrence. Hopefully, it stays that way.