Wednesday, December 16, 2015

THE THREAT + THE SHUTDOWN: L.A. School Report's coverage

The email that shut down LA schools came from an ‘Internet meme sewer’
It’s been traced back to a barebones email server that hosts thousands of accounts.
Huffington Post, by Ryan Grenoble

Parents, teachers grapple to explain Los Angeles school threat
The Los Angeles Unified School District will offer counseling to students when they return to classes on Wednesday, a spokeswoman said.
Reuters, by Lisa Richwine

Commentary: Did Los Angeles overreact to school threat?
Shutting down a city, and engendering anxiety and frustration on a metropolitan scale, now only requires nothing more than an email.
CNN, by Jeff Yang

Chris Christie faults Obama for failing to prevent Los Angeles bomb hoax
Gov. Christie cited the LAUSD bomb threat to make the case that President Obama and Hillary Clinton were mishandling the country’s national security.
Huffington Post, by Igor Bobic

After LAUSD closure, local firms open up to kids
Restaurants offered free lunches to students, museums waived admission fees, and businesses opened their doors to kids as employees woke up to a morning in flux.
Los Angeles Business Journal, by Natalie Schachar

Commentary: Tale of two cities – to close or not to close schools?
In a swipe at L.A., New York City police chief William Bratton said the decision to close the L.A. schools was “a significant overreaction.”
EdSource, by Louis Freedberg

LA Unified officials said tonight that all district schools have been declared safe and will reopen tomorrow.

The decision was made after law enforcement officials determined that an email foretelling violent acts across the district was judged to be “not a credible threat” by investigators, in the words of Mayor Eric Garretti, who joined city and regional officials at an early evening news conference.

The announcement brought an end to one of the most challenging days in LA Unified history, causing anxiety and inconvenience to hundreds of thousands of families who send their children to the district’s 1,100 schools. The officials said 2,780 law enforcement personnel had swept 1,531 school sites to determine that all schools were safe for the resumption of instruction.

However, as Garcetti warned, the opening of schools does not bring an end to the episode. He objected to characterizing the email as a “prank” or a hoax,” suggesting instead it could be a case of “criminal mischief or testing true vulnerability of the district.”

“We sure hope we catch who is responsible,” he said. “At best someone was engaged in extreme criminal mischief, a serious crime. Somebody needs to pay for that. If they were testing our vulnerability, we did a pretty good job of responding.”

The mayor said the threat came to LA Unified’s board president, Steve Zimmer, at 10 pm Monday night. Zimmer immediately contacted law enforcement, and it quickly led to a collaboration involving the FBI, country agencies, the Los Angeles Police Department and the district’s police department.

After hours of work, they presented information early in the morning to Ramon Cortines, who had stepped down three days before as district superintendent, to make a decision about opening schools.

LA Unified school board President Steve Zimmer announced tonight that 1,531 school sites in the district have been declared safe and will be reopened tomorrow.

LA School Report will have a full report shortly.

Walter Reed Middle School in Studio City, has “zero periods,” when students with electives go to classes before school begins. When teachers arrived at the school early today to prepare for their regular class time, they were greeted by their colleagues saying, “Leave the school, we’re on Level 1 alert. This is serious!”

Minutes before school was supposed to begin, Reed’s principal Jeanne Gamba issued a robo-call alerting parents that all schools will be closed and parents are being asked to pick up their children.

All across the 1,100-plus traditional and charter schools run by LAUSD, procedures were surprisingly similar today as law enforcement authorities checked campuses to see if an email threatening violence across the district was real or a hoax. It was a long and trying day, testing nerves of parents and instincts of authorities with a “serious threat” of mass violence just two weeks after the terrorist attack in San Bernardino.

Across town from Walter Reed in the southern part of the country’s second-largest school district, principal Tracy Washington,of Locke Early Education Center was standing outside her school, not allowed to go in herself. She was able to alert her families through her cell phone.

“You do what you have to do; we’re here for the students,” Washington said. “We take our orders from the district, and they said, don’t go into the school. It’s a state of emergency, that’s it.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti made it very clear: He didn’t close the schools. Neither did the police chief, nor the county sheriff.

That decision was made by LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines, who was supposed to be on his way to retirement this week.

“I made the decision to close the schools,” Cortines said at a morning press conference, flanked by the leaders of the city, the police chief, the sheriff and the school board.

Already seeming to anticipate criticism for causing such a commotion across the city by shutting down the schools, Garcetti said, “Decisions need to be made in a matter of minutes.” He was concerned that if this threat turned out to be a simple scare he doesn’t want it to result in people not speaking up the next time a threat may occur.

“We want freedom and liberty, but also to be safe,” the mayor said, referring people to the Los Angeles tipline iWatch.

The city was put in a Level 1 alert, and Garcetti said, “It is my number one priority keeping the city safe, whether or not anything happens.”

Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell also touted Cortines’s brave decision “to ensure that 700,000 young people are safe.”

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck pointed out, “It’s very easy in hindsight to criticize the decision when you have no responsibility.” He said that Cortines’s decision was based on solid facts to make the determination. “Southern California has been through a lot in recent weeks,” Beck said, alluding to the mass shootings in San Bernardino.

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Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat and ranking member of the House intelligence committee whose district includes many LA Unified schools, said today a “preliminary assessment” of the emailed threat prompting the closure of all district schools today was a hoax.

In a statement, he said, “While we continue to gather information about the threat made against the Los Angeles and New York School Departments, the preliminary assessment is that it was a hoax or something designed to disrupt school districts in large cities. The investigation is ongoing as to where the threat originated from and who was responsible.”

Even so, he suggested that district officials made the right decision in closing the schools out of an abundance of caution.

“The safety of our communities and particularly our young people is paramount,” he said in his statement. “At the same time, in an environment in which it is very easy to transmit threats, real and otherwise, and when fear and disruption may be the goal as well as the effect, communities and law enforcement will need to make a difficult judgment as to how to respond in a variety of circumstances. The goal of the intelligence and federal law enforcement community should be to assist local authorities with as timely information as possible to help inform those judgments.  I will continue to urge the intelligence and federal law enforcement community to share as much information as it can, as quickly as it is able.”

Rep. Brad Sherman, a Democrat representing the Valley, agreed with his colleague, to a point. Speaking on KTLA this afternoon, he said, “certain parts of the Los Angeles email were not credible.”

It wasn’t by accident that all seven LA Unified school board members happened to be at this morning’s press conference with the mayor, the sheriff, the police chief and superintendent as they announced closing the schools today.

The school board had already plan to continue closed-door deliberations to select a superintendent to succeed Ramon Cortines. His last official day in office was Friday, but when he came in to the press conference this morning in a sweat shirt, yellow cap, jeans and tennis shoes — very uncharacteristic for a man known for his natty suits and bow ties. He began his remarks, joking, “I have retired and returned now for the fourth time.”

The board’s scheduled meeting was eclipsed by the school closings. Early on, board President Steve Zimmer and member Mónica García joined in, translating news into Spanish.

Then, all the school board members showed up at a 10 a.m. press conference with the major police officials in the county.

There had been some hints that maybe the school board would announce a decision about the superintendent today, but that now seems even more unlikely than it had been. The board was continuing its search discussions, awaiting any further developments on the threat assessment.

A 17-year old male student at Los Angeles International Charter High School in Highland Park was struck and killed by a truck this morning as he was crossing a street near the school.

The death occurred after the LA Unified school district decided to close all its campuses this morning due to a threat of violence, although the school is not associated directly with the district and had its most recent charter application approved by the LA County Board of Education.

The school’s leadership decided to close down because it is near some LA Unified schools, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The school’s director of recruitment, Tony Torrres, told the Times that “the decision to close the school came very late. So people were still heading to school.”

The death occurred reportedly around 7:10 a.m. as the boy was crossing the street Avenue 60 and Figueroa Street and was hit by an LA city Bureau of Street Services truck, according to KTLA.

The LA Unified school district made the rare move today of closing all of its campuses after receiving a terror threat.

Superintendent Ramon Cortines has asked for police to search every building — a major operation considering the district has over 1,100 campuses. The move also comes as New York officials said they received a similar threat but have determined it was a hoax.

Check out our Storify feed below for live updates via Twitter, Facebook and other social media accounts about the school closings.
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An email that threatened violence with “explosive devices, assault rifles and machine pistols” provided LA Unified officials today with the rationale for closing all schools across the district.

Those details and others, which began emerging today, convinced city and school officials that closing schools was the more prudent action, especially in the aftermath of the deadly terrorist attack two weeks ago in San Bernardino and the attacks in Paris that proceeded it.

Speaking at a mid-morning press conference, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said an email came to several of the school board members threatening attacks specifically to LA Unified schools, but not any school in particular. He said the email came from Frankfurt, Germany, but it’s origin, he said, “is believed to be from much closer than Germany.”

He said there was an  “implied threat of explosive devices and a specific threat of attack with assault rifles and machine pistols.”

The email reached the district late last night, prompting the city to declare a Level 1 security alert.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said the email referenced “violence to students and could come in a number of forms of violence with weapons already in place to bring that violence about.”

Rep. Brad Sherman, a Democrat who represents parts of the San Fernando Valley, appeared on MSNBC and disclosed several more details from the email, including the writer’s claim to be “a devout Muslim” who had “32 accomplices” with the ability to use “nerve gas.”

In a statement he had issued earlier, Sherman said, “The author claims to be an extremist Muslim who has teamed up with local jihadists. We do not know whether these claims are true or a lie. We do not know whether this email is from a devout Muslim who supports jihadists or perhaps a non-Muslim with a different agenda.”

New York City schools also received an email terror threat today, according to various media reports. But unlike the LA Unified school district, which closed all of its campuses this morning, New York schools remained open today.

In fact, New York leaders are cracking jokes about the situation as LA Unified officials are closing roughly 1,000 campuses and mobilizing police units around the city to search district buildings.

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said the email received in New York was similar to the one received in Los Angeles, but police have determined it not to be credible and are investigating it as a hoax, according to CBS and the Associated Press.

Bratton said big indicator that the email is a hoax is that the word “Allah” was not spelled with a capital “A.”

“The language in the email would lead us to believe that this is not a jihadist initiative,” Braton told CBS. ”That would be incredible to think that any jihadist would not spell ‘Allah’ with a capital ‘A.'”

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio also said the message appeared to be a hoax, and one that didn’t fool New York officials.

“Based on the information that we have, this was a very generic piece of writing sent to a number of different places simultaneously and also written in a fashion that suggests that it’s not plausible, and we’ve come to the conclusion that we must continue to keep our school system open,” said de Blasio, according to CBS. “In fact, it’s very important not to overreact in situations like this.”


All LAUSD schools were closed today due to a “serious threat” called into the district.

The threat was not aimed at any specific school, but was judged credible enough for school officials to close all the campuses, which serve 643,000 students in 900 traditional and 200 charter schools.

“This is a rare threat, we get threats all the time, but due to the circumstances in neighboring San Bernardino and what’s happening in the nation, what happening internationally, I as superintendent am not going to take the chance with the life of a student,” Ramon Cortines, the out-going superintendent, said at an impromptu press conference.

He later confirmed reports that the threat came to the district “from overseas.” Shannon Haber, the district spokeswoman, confirmed that an email was sent to a member of the school board last night suggesting a threat involving “backpacks or packages.” She also said the email came from an IP address in Frankfurt, Germany.

The New York Times reported that New York City officials said that they had received a similar threat but had concluded that it was a hoax. The paper quoted Mayor Bill de Blasio saying he was “absolutely convinced” that there was no danger to schoolchildren in New York.

Cortines said schools would remain closed until the authorities have searched all school sites and determined they were safe for students and staff to return. He said the district would issue a statement later in the day, with an update on the results. He also said that city police and the FBI were assisting with the threat assessment.

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