A handful of Jewish day schools in the Los Angeles area responded on Dec. 15 to a threat to L.A. schools by either canceling classes or enacting other precautions, such as increasing campus security. By midday, the threat was deemed a hoax according to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), who serves on the House Intelligence Committee.
Jewish schools that closed for the day included Kadima Day School, Yeshiva Yavneh, Harkham Hillel Academy, Yeshiva University High School and Temple Israel of Hollywood Day School.
Whereas all Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) schools were shuttered by an order from Supt. Ramon Cortines after a board member received a threat of violence involving backpacks and packages at public school campuses, these private day schools closed voluntarily out of concern for the safety of students, as well, school leaders said.
“We’re pleased we made this decision for our community,” Kadima Day School Director of Admissions Michelle Starkman said in a phone interview on the morning of Dec. 15. “Who we are, safety is the No. 1 thing we do.”
She said her concern stemmed from the fact that Kadima — based in West Hills — is surrounded by several LAUSD schools.
“Many of our families have children attending LAUSD schools as well as Kadima,” Starkman said. “I think it’s unsettling for families to think one school does not take the safety of their child as seriously as another.”
One school that ramped up security but stayed open was Sinai Akiba Academy, which had already been increasing its security in recent weeks. Sarah Shulkind, its head of school, said she had been in contact throughout the day with other day school leaders, and she expressed confidence in the school’s decision to remain open despite the LAUSD developments.
“The best thing we can do for the school and the community is have school as usual. It reassures kids they are in a place where adults are taking care of them,” Shulkind said. “They are doing text study as usual, innovation lab as usual and coming to school as they always would be.”
More than 900 LAUSD schools closed after what LAUSD initially described as a “credible threat” was delivered in an email to LAUSD officials. Various media outlets said authorities traced the email to an IP address in Germany.
“All L.A. Unified schools closed,” a message on lausd.net reads. “The safety and well-being of our students remain the Los Angeles Unified School District’s top priority. Resulting from a threat received, all schools are closed today over concerns for student and employee safety.”
The investigation into the email is ongoing, Schiff said in a statement on the afternoon of the closures. He said the threat could be “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.” School officials in New York City also received the threat but did not close the schools.
Schiff was not immediately available for a phone interview.
The threat affected public and charter schools in the LAUSD system. Among those was Lashon Academy Charter School, a Hebrew-English charter school, which closed in accordance with the instructions of LAUSD.
“Lashon, as a public school, follows the instructions/recommendations of the District, which was to close our school,” Josh Stock, founder and executive director of Lashon Academy, wrote in an email to the Journal.
The incident followed closely on the heels of the San Bernardino shooting, which resulted in 14 people dead and 21 wounded.
“My guess is the school district is being extra vigilant after San Bernardino and just wanted to make sure [everything was safe],” Gary Weisserman, head of school at Milken Community Schools, said in an interview.
Weisserman did not close Milken, but, because Milken uses LAUSD buses, morning bus routes were canceled, he said. The actions affected approximately 60 students, Weisserman said.
The school also canceled the day’s after-school programs as a safety measure, Weisserman said. “In the afternoon, it is harder to secure the campus … people are coming in for games, practices. To be safe, [we’ve] canceled [them]. [But] campus is secure. We’re business as usual.”
Milken Community Schools is one of the largest Jewish high and middle schools in the United States. Another large Jewish day school located in Los Angeles is deToledo High School. Los Angeles Police Department officials were visiting with deToledo High School officials at the time of a Journal phone interview with David Marcus, campus business manager at deToledo.
Marcus said he has overseen the increase of security at the school, saying the school is safe and secure — and open.
“Our response is [that] we’re vigilant. We make sure this is a safe place for our students,” Marcus said. “We’re on top of stuff like this.”
Rabbi Moshe Dear, headmaster at Yeshiva Yavneh, echoed Starkman.
“Even though there was no direct threat to our school, for sure, our school is located across the street from an LAUSD public school, which made the decision a little easier,” Dear said in a phone interview.
The Yavneh leader expressed that the threat was troubling him on an emotional level.
“I think it’s sad we live in these times that schools, which are meant to be a safe and happy place, need to send children home because of these types of threats,” he said. “We hope and pray for better days.”
Press release from Patrick Boland regarding the LAUSD shutdown
Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Schiff Statement on School Closings
Washington, DC – Today, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank, CA), the Ranking Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, released the following statement after receiving a preliminary briefing:
“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.
“The safety of our communities and particularly our young people is paramount. 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.”