A gate to Birmingham Community Charter High School is locked with a sign stating that school is closed, Tuesday, December 15, 2015, in Van Nuys, California. AP Photo/Danny Moloshok

The L.A. Unified School District’s decision had consequences for kids, parents, and teachers alike.

Students in the nation’s second-largest school district are returning to class Wednesday. An emailed terror threat shut down the Los Angeles Unified School District on Tuesday and set off a massive police hunt across its 900 campuses. Superintendent Ramon Cortines made the unprecedented decision to close schools “because he couldn’t take a chance with the system’s 640,000 students,” according to the L.A. Times.

Hours after the decision, word came that New York City public school officials had also received an email threat, almost identically worded as LAUSD’s, but had chosen to treat it as a hoax and not close schools.

"We cannot allow ourselves to raise levels of fear," New York Police Commissioner William J. Bratton told the media. "This is not a credible threat and not one that requires any action." He also called Los Angeles’ response "a significant overreaction”—an appraisal echoed by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

By Tuesday evening, LAUSD campuses had been searched, and the FBI had discredited the threat. Congressman Brad Sherman, a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs committee and who represents large swathes of Los Angeles, said the email lacked “the feel of the way the jihadists usually write.”

But that didn’t stop many Angelenos from coming out in support of the district’s decision, even as it interrupted the routines of hundreds of thousands of students, teachers, and parents—and potentially cost LAUSD millions in state funding. L.A. Metro gave students free rides, museums opened their doors without charge, and libraries, childcare centers, and after-school programs stepped up to help guardians in a pinch.

Why were reactions to the threat so different in New York City? Certainly, the recent mass shooting in San Bernardino, just 60 minutes from Los Angeles, set a tone of “whatever it takes” concern in California.

“I think it’s irresponsible … to criticize that decision at that point,” L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck told the Times regarding New York City’s blunt remarks. “Southern California has been through a lot in the past few weeks. Should we put our children through the same thing?”

Many parents shared the feeling. “Of course, it's a mad scramble to figure out who would take care of the kids," Brandon Halverson, whose wife stayed home from work to care for their two children enrolled in LAUSD, told the L.A. Times. But, he added, "I'd prefer to be inconvenienced than send my kids into a dangerous situation.”

Some kids went to work with their parents, like 9-year-old Yesenia Velazquez, who walked with her dad Rafael as he hawked candy and snacks in an East L.A. neighborhood. One office worker on Twitter posted a photo of their kid squished into a cubicle.

There were also surely parents who had to miss to work to care for young children—a considerable sacrifice in a district where roughly 80 percent of students live at or below the poverty line. Adults also struggled with how to explain “terror days” to their kids.

For older students, the closure was a mixed bag. Some were thrilled: “Not having finals is BOMB asf #LAUSD,” tweeted one gleeful young man. Others were more somber:

And still others were worried about a favorite campus-adjacent tamale vendor. Had she been alerted to the shutdown?

As bells ring at the start of classes today, some teachers are heading to meetings to de-brief on the shutdown. A new finals schedule will shape up, and students and staff will have access to crisis counselors, should they need the support in the wake of the threats. Police presence will remain high across the district.

For some, however, the shutdown was just another day in LAUSD. Adriana Yugovich, a teacher at Humanitas Academy of Art and Technology at Esteban E. Torres High School (and a friend of mine), told me she used to substitute at highly underserved schools in the district, where searching students and campus lock-downs were a matter of routine. Being on high alert, she says, “was part of the culture.”

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Homes in Amsterdam are pictured.
    Equity

    Amsterdam's Plan: If You Buy a Newly Built House, You Can't Rent It Out

    In an effort to make housing more affordable, the Dutch capital is crafting a law that says anyone who buys a newly built home must live in it themselves.

  2. Design

    Cities Deserve Better Than These Thomas Heatherwick Gimmicks

    The “Vessel” at New York’s Hudson Yards—like so many of his designs—look as if the dystopian world of 1984 has been given a precious makeover.

  3. Equity

    How Poor Americans Get Exploited by Their Landlords

    American landlords derive more profit from renters in low-income neighborhoods, researchers Matthew Desmond and Nathan Wilmers find.

  4. Transportation

    China's 50-Lane Traffic Jam Is Every Commuter's Worst Nightmare

    What happens when a checkpoint merges 50 lanes down to 20.

  5. In this image from "No Small Plans," a character makes his way to the intersection of State and Madison Streets in 1928 Chicago.
    Stuff

    Drawing Up an Urban Planning Manual for Chicago Teens

    The graphic novel No Small Plans aims to empower the city’s youth through stories about their neighborhoods.