NEW YORK — A "credible terror threat" is what caused the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest in the country, to tell its 700,000 students and staff to stay home on Tuesday.
However, the New York City Department of Education received the same threatening message, but chose to send its 1.2 million children and staff to school anyway. The reason for the very different reactions may lie in the respective cities' past experiences with terrorism.
The school day began on Tuesday with Ramon Cortines, a former New York City schools chancellor and current L.A. superintendent, making a major announcement. "Chief Zipperman, the school police chief," said Cortines, "he shared with me a threat made to multiple schools.
"After talking with him," Cortines continued, "I made the decision to close all of the schools."
That announcement, made at a 7:00 A.M. news conference, started a process of intentional, system wide stoppage. School bus yards, with their acres of yellow buses ready to head out on their routes to pick up students, were shut down.
That, however, did not prevent a variety of problems from arising. Many L.A. students don't ride the schoolbus. Over and over, throughout the city and county, some students, teachers and staff had already left for school when the superintendent made his closure announcement. Some students and staff had already arrived. They were left in limbo.
The situation began Monday night, after the L.A. Schools received an email, traced to a sender in Germany. The sender claimed to be an extremist Muslim. But that extremist Muslim misspelled many words, including "Allah," something that a devoted follower of Islam would never do.
There was also a pornography reference in the email, according to CNN. The writer of the email also said that there'd be dozens of accomplices with bombs in backpacks and using nerve agents.
Despite that intensity of threat, other aspects of the email left New York officials cautious, but underwhelmed. The email message "was so generic," said Mayor Bill de Blasio, "we could not associate [it] with jihadist activity."
The mayor and police commissioner Bill Bratton discussed the situation as part of an announcement, an hour after the LAPD and L.A. school police started checking for explosives and other weapons at that city's shut down schools, that New York and other cities had received the same threatening email that Los Angeles had gotten.
Commissioner Bratton had, from 2002 to 2009, been himself the top cop of the LAPD. He had criticism for the way his former employers on the West Coast had acted. "An anonymous email," he said, was among the first of many indications that this could be a hoax. Bratton called the Los Angeles response "a significant overreaction."
His late morning statements were followed by another news conference in L.A. "We of course reached out to federal law enforcement," said Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti, "who have been taxed since San Bernardino."
Garcetti made reference to the terror shooting just two weeks ago Wednesday, an hour's drive from L.A., in which 14 people were killed and 24 were injured. It was a clear reminder that L.A. Metro authorities had reason to choose to not take any chances.
"Southern California has been through a lot in recent weeks," said LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. "Should we risk putting our children through the same?"
Unless some credible evidence of a threat to schools' safety is discovered, L.A. schools are expected to be reopen on Wednesday.