Home > Uncategorized > LAUSD Closed… NYC Schools Stay Open: What Constitutes a Credible Threat?

LAUSD Closed… NYC Schools Stay Open: What Constitutes a Credible Threat?

Yesterday, LAUSD schools closed based on a “credible threat” they received over email… a threat that was virtually identical to one received in NYC. Having served as a HS Administrator for six year and a Superintendent for 29 I have made countless decisions on weather closings and been involved directly and indirectly with bomb threats virtually every year.

One of my colleagues liked to tell the story of a the during his tenure as HS Principal when they closed school or evacuated the building on several days in Spring because of a bomb threat that was phoned in. After the fifth or sixth close or evacuation, each of which involved a sweep through the building by police, he received a phone call with a muffled voice saying “There’s a bomb in your building”. The colleague responded to the message by saying “No… there isn’t one today” and hanging up. It was the last call he received that year. When I was Principal I can recall at least two instances where I chose to ignore a phoned in threat. We had a string of phoned threats and had emptied the school and searched locks each time. We then instituted protocols to ensure that no one had entry to the schools during the evenings and that locker rooms were swept by the night custodians. Because I know the school was secure I ignored phoned warnings on two occasions with the blessing of the local police and the Superintendent. The phone calls stopped thereafter.

It is usually difficult to catch the individuals who are making the calls. When I was assistant principal in a suburban Philadelphia HS we caught an individual who was making the calls because the “grapevine” reported who the student was and which phone booth he was calling from. In another district we were advised that we needed to keep the caller on the line for as long as possible if we hoped to catch the perpetrator and we also secured some phones that had screens displaying the caller’s number— which was an “advanced technology” at the time. Once students heard that we had this system in place, information we “leaked” to the student government who was distressed over the frequency of the phoned bomb threats, they ceased.

Is there are “right way” to assess risk in cases where bomb threats are called in or, in this case, emailed? I felt that in all cases, those where we evacuated the school or those where we chose to ignore the calls, the police needed to be notified as well as those above me in the hierarchy– the Superintendent when I was Principal and the Board chair when I was Superintendent. Whenever possible I preferred making the decision collaboratively, involving the person who received the call and at least one other colleague so that we could determine the plausibility of the risk. Once we made our collective decision we would inform the police and our respective bosses of the situation and the basis for our decision.

After reading the article I had empathy for both the NYC and LAUSD Superintendents. The NYC Superintendent, even though he had the endorsement of the Police Chief and Mayor, would feel ultimately responsible for anything that went wrong and, I am sure, had a gnawing fear throughout the day that something might happen. The LAUSD Superintendent, though, had to know that second guessing would occur and his fortitude and common sense questioned: after all, his colleagues in similar circumstances got the same message and acted differently. And here’s the answer to the question posed at the beginning of the last paragraph: there IS no “right way” to assess risk in cases like this any more than there is a “right way” to assess the risk of a forecasted snow storm. If you are the leader of a school or a school district, you make the best decision you can with the information you have and get ready for the next day when you’ll have more decisions to make.

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  1. December 16, 2015 at 12:48 pm

    When the email with the threat comes from “madbomber@cock.li” I think the prudent course of action is to discount it, honestly –

    https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20151215/15415733091/credible-email-bomb-threat-shuts-down-la-schools-sent-madbombercockli.shtmlmadbomber@cock.li

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