Parents, teachers grapple to explain Los Angeles school threat

Reuters

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A woman and two kids walk past Elysian Heights Elementary School in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, California December 15, 2015. Photo: Reuters/Jason Redmond A woman and two kids walk past Elysian Heights Elementary School in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, California December 15, 2015. Photo: Reuters/Jason Redmond

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Parents and teachers in Los Angeles tried to reassure students on Tuesday after a threat deemed likely to be a hoax prompted the unprecedented closure of hundreds of public schools and tricky questions from children about terrorism and violence.
The Los Angeles Unified School District will offer counseling to students when they return to classes on Wednesday, a spokeswoman said.
Officials declined to provide specifics on how they would address any concerns.
A guide posted on the district's website offered parents general advice on "psychological first aid" following a crisis, with tips such as listening to children who want to talk about the situation and setting an example with calm behavior.
Alexis Prescott, a marriage and family therapy intern, said she tried to explain to her two children, Chase, 11, and Chance, 8, why school was canceled in a way that was both honest and non-alarming.
"I said that Daddy and I didn't really think this was necessary, but that it was good that people were working hard to keep us safe," she said.
The children attend the Oaks, a Hollywood private school, which opted to remain closed "out of caution," Prescott said.
School psychologists said parents and teachers should reassure children that adults are taking every possible step to protect them.
They need to "tell the truth, but stick to simple facts and not tell kids more than they want to know," said Troy Xavier Leonard, a school psychologist for the district. Leonard spoke in his role as president of the California Association of School Psychologists (CASP), which distributed materials to schools about how to discuss the topic.
The goal is "to move quickly back to normality and the usual routine," he added.
Kim Jones, a teacher at King Middle School in Silver Lake, said she took that approach with her 11- and 12-year-old sixth graders. In an electronic message sent on Tuesday, she told her class that officials had acted out of caution to make sure the school was safe. But she also urged them to use the day to prepare for a math test that she promised would go on as scheduled this week.
"I figure if I tell them 'I know you are all shaken up and there's no homework,' then that's scary," Jones said. "Instead it's 'do your math.' It's business as usual."
Muslim parents are concerned the event could stir up prejudice that swelled after it was revealed that a mass shooting in San Bernardino this month was committed by a Muslim couple.
Suroor Raziuddin, a Muslim parent whose two daughters attend Lawrence Middle School in Chatsworth, said one of the first things her 11-year-old asked her of the perpetrators on Tuesday was "are they Muslim?"
"For my children, it's been a recurring question," she said. "Anything that happens in the news, they will immediately go on an alert."
"I always tell them to be kind," she said, "and not to get defensive and be angry."
Barbara Lempel, a teacher of 14- to 22-year-olds with developmental disabilities, said she likely will tell them on Wednesday that school officials acted out of caution and stress that they are lucky to have people looking out for their safety.
"They trust the world of school, and they are excited to come to school every day," she said. "And I need them to come excited to school."
 

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