RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Some 600,000 students in the country's second-largest school district are returning to classes this morning. Yesterday, an email containing a terrorist threat prompted the Los Angeles school district to close all of its schools. Law enforcement officials now say that threat, like a similar one made in New York, was not credible. And as NPR's Kirk Siegler reports, the decision is being scrutinized.
KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Even as the investigation into the alleged terrorist threat was still unfolding, the LA Unified Schools' superintendent and city leaders were out front defending their decision to close all 1,000-plus schools across a 500-square-mile district. Here's Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
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ERIC GARCETTI: We see investigations unfold sometimes for a series of days. But decisions need to be made in a matter of minutes.
SIEGLER: The chief of the LAPD, Charlie Beck, was also at that press conference, even though it was the school superintendent and district's own police force that was leading the investigation.
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CHARLIE BECK: These communities, our community, Southern California has been through a lot in the recent weeks. Should we risk putting our children through the same?
SIEGLER: This is a region that's still very much on edge just two weeks after the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino 60 miles to the east. The emailed threats claimed to have accomplices at schools ready to strike with weapons and package bombs. In New York City, a similar threat was deemed not credible apparently quicker, and schools remained open.
KEN TRUMP: We have to acknowledge that schools are soft targets.
SIEGLER: Ken Trump runs a national school safety consulting firm. He says after Paris and San Bernardino, law enforcement has warned about the possibility of schools becoming terrorist targets.
TRUMP: At the same time, we want to be realistic and practical in how we approach this and not live in a state of fear or in a fortified environment where we send our children every day.
SIEGLER: So did LA Unified overreact? What's not yet clear is whether officials here had as much time as New York to make a full risk assessment of the threat. There are also questions surrounding the district's security protocols and whether the various law enforcement agencies are sharing enough information.
TRUMP: It's very tempting in today's world of social media and the anxiety that's created through rapid communications, misinformation and rumors, for school officials to feel pressured to make some quick, sometimes knee-jerk reactions.
SIEGLER: Trump says closing schools outright can set a dangerous precedent and sometimes be even less safe for kids. At least so far, LA Unified hasn't faced a huge amount of criticism for the blanket closure. Outside Hillcrest Elementary in South Los Angeles, Laverne Carter said she just felt relieved to be taking her two grandkids home for the day.
LAVERNE CARTER: Best to be cautious 'cause a lot of kids go here.
SIEGLER: The school's principal, Anthony Jackson, had just finished a security sweep, and they found nothing.
ANTHONY JACKSON: I think we're all on - you know, we have a heightened awareness and sensitivity to what's been going on in the world given, you know, recent events - right? - both on our side of the pond and across the pond and in Europe.
SIEGLER: Jackson says he stands firmly behind the decision of school district administrators. Today, the 700-plus students here at Hillcrest will return under heightened security. Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.