Threats to New York, Los Angeles schools highlights new fears

LOS ANGELES -- When it comes to assessing threats, New York City and Los Angeles schools likely have more experience than most other districts in the country.

See Full Article

But their reactions were dramatically different Tuesday to the same threat of a large-scale jihadi attack with guns and bombs - LA dismissed all its classes while New York dismissed the warning as a hoax.

The divergent responses from the nation's two biggest K-12 public school systems reflected what many in school security know: That deciding whether or not a threat is credible is hardly a mathematical process and the stakes in staying open or closing are high. It is one that school district officials around the country have weighed heavily in the wake of school shootings and threats.

Across the nation, small and large districts regularly encounter the age-old challenge of deciphering threats, complicated today by more sophisticated technology that can make them harder to trace.

Even when a threat is determined to be a hoax, the consequences can be a severe, with the safety of thousands of children, millions of school funding, and the message each decision sends on the line.

It's extremely rare for a major U.S. city to close all its schools because of a threat and it reflected the lingering unease in Southern California following the attack that killed 14 people at a holiday luncheon two weeks ago in San Bernardino.

"If this was not ISIS, not a terror organization, they're nonetheless watching," Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Wednesday on MSNBC's "Meet the Press Daily." "And if they come to the conclusion that they can literally mail it in, call it in and disrupt large cities, they're going to take advantage of that."

A 2014 analysis by National School Safety and Security Services, a Cleveland-based consulting firm, found a 158 per cent increase in the number of threats schools received over the previous year. About 37 per cent of the threats were sent electronically and nearly a third resulted in schools being evacuated. Nearly 10 per cent of the threats closed school for at least one day.

Ken Trump, president of the firm, said schools leaders faced with a threat they don't believe is credible sometimes let community anxiety rule the decision to evacuate or close, even though children might be safer in school than sent home where they could be left unsupervised.

"It's often better to keep them in school," he said.

In LA, the threat came in the form of an email to a school board member. Authorities in New York reported receiving the same "generic" email and decided there was no danger to schoolchildren. Mayor Bill de Blasio concluded the threat contained "nothing credible." New York Police Commissioner William Bratton said that it looked like the sender of the threat had watched a lot of the Showtime terrorism drama "Homeland."

Los Angeles officials announced Tuesday evening that schools would reopen Wednesday, with all city police officers ordered to be in uniform and extra patrol at schools.

Officials in LA defended the move to shut down its entire district, with that city's police chief dismissing the criticism as "irresponsible."

"We have suffered too many school shootings in America to ignore these kinds of threats," Chief Charlie Beck said.

Victor Asal, chair of public administration at the State University of New York at Albany, said the decision each district made was reflective of their respective experiences. New York has invested heavily in homeland security and terrorism response, which might make it easier to process how big a threat is, he said.

"Los Angeles doesn't have that same kind of experience," he said. "So you take the investment New York has and you take the nervousness that Los Angeles is feeling because it's an hour away from San Bernardino, and that creates a situation where I would expect the two cities to react differently."

LA schools commonly get threats, but Los Angeles Superintendent Ramon Cortines called this one rare and said the San Bernardino attack influenced his decision to close the entire district.

The threat "was not to one school, two schools or three schools," he said at a news conference Tuesday morning. "It was many schools, not specifically identified. ... That's the reason I took the action that I did."

The threat disrupted the routines of many Los Angeles families and sparked nerves in a region already on edge.

Lupita Vela, who has a daughter in the third grade and a son who is a high school senior, called the threat "absolutely terrifying" in light of the San Bernardino attack.

"I don't want this to be in the back of her head," she said. "Who knows what it does psychologically to kids? Is this going to cause her some kind of trauma so that she's not going to feel safe at school?"

---

Associated Press writers Tami Abdollah in Washington and Christopher Weber, Amanda Lee Myers, Michael Blood and Edwin Tamara in Los Angeles contributed to this report.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Environmentalists in court seeking details on Keystone XL approval

    Canada News CTV News
    BILLINGS, Mont. -- Opponents of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada are asking a judge to force the U.S. government to turn over emails and other documents related to President Donald Trump's approval of the project. Source
  • Alberta shrugs off B.C. legal challenge on wine ban

    Canada News CTV News
    EDMONTON -- Alberta's economic development minister is shrugging off a legal challenge filed by British Columbia over Alberta's ban on B.C. wine. Deron Bilous says the potential fine Alberta faces for violating free trade rules is a pittance when set against the stakes of the Trans Mountain pipeline issue. Source
  • Quebec judge should be removed from bench after cocaine use inquiry, watchdog says

    Canada News CBC News
    A judicial watchdog says a Quebec Superior court judge accused of buying cocaine should be tossed from bench for misleading an inquiry into his conduct. In a report issued to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould today, a majority of the 23-member Canadian Judicial Council found Michel Girouard guilty of misconduct for misleading an inquiry into the suspected transaction. Source
  • 'I do not want your guns': Florida teacher rejects call to arm up after shooting

    World News CTV News
    A woman who teaches Grade 8 students near the school where 17 were shot dead in Parkland, Fla., says it’s not her job to carry a gun in case of an active shooter situation. Circe Burnett, who works at Logger’s Run Community Elementary School, says there’s simply no way she or any other teacher can be properly trained for an event like the one that happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. Source
  • Edmonton man accused of online threats against PM, government

    Canada News CTV News
    Police have charged an Edmonton man who they allege used social media posts to threaten the Canadian government and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Alberta RCMP say that the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (K-INSET) identified the social media account in question and the suspect was taken into custody last Thursday. Source
  • Judge rules 'vulgar' slur against reporter was not a public disturbance

    Canada News CTV News
    ST. JOHN'S, N.L. -- A judge has ruled a notorious sexist slur aimed at a reporter in St. John's, N.L., was vulgar and offensive but wasn't a crime under the circumstances. Provincial court Judge Colin Flynn dismissed the single charge against 28-year-old Justin Penton of causing a public disturbance. Source
  • Mother outraged after school sends 'triggering' residential school book home to 3rd graders

    Canada News CBC News
    A mother from Hay River, N.W.T., says she's upset after her son's school sent the third grader home with a graphic book about an 8-year-old girl being mistreated in residential school. She said she only realized how triggering the book is after she started reading it to her son — partway through the first page, she said they both started crying. Source
  • Palestinian president presents timeline for 2-state solution before walking out on talks

    World News CBC News
    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is calling for an international peace conference by mid-2018 with key goals of full United Nations membership for the state of Palestine and a timeframe for resolving all issues with Israel for a two-state solution. Source
  • Woman with disabilities remained in hospital 15 years as reports called for exit

    Canada News CTV News
    HALIFAX - A human rights inquiry heard today that a Nova Scotia woman with intellectual disabilities was deemed ready to leave a psychiatric hospital but remained for 15 years due to a lack of an appropriate care home. Source
  • Commercial airplane incidents, accidents jump in 2017, safety board says

    Canada News CTV News
    OTTAWA - A national pilots association is raising alarm bells over new accident numbers showing a year-over-year jump in incidents involving commercial airliners. The Transportation Safety Board says the increase in airline incidents overall is partly due to a higher number of flight training accidents. Source