During last week’s PTA meeting at Lorne Street Elementary School in Northridge, representatives from the Los Angeles Unified School District and the principal of the school spoke to parents to address their concerns over a former employee making a school shooting threat and their frustration over the failure to communicate with them and the lack of transparency about the incident. However, at the end of the nearly two-hour meeting, all that was left for several parents was more frustration.
As Sandy Anger-Hernandez, a parent of an 8-year-old special needs child at Lorne Street Elementary put it, “It was a s***show.”
They said neither the school nor the district, to this day, have provided formal notification to parents about the school threat.
Marcos Ramos, 29, was arrested on Sept. 12 by the San Fernando Police Department (SFPD) after allegedly threatening to commit a mass shooting at an elementary school. His four firearms were also seized. But he was released later that week after the district attorney’s office declined to press charges based on insufficient evidence.
Ramos has been served with a temporary gun violence restraining order — filed by the SFPD on Sept. 19 — that prevents him from retrieving his guns from police custody or owning other firearms. The order lasts up to 21 days.
There will be a public hearing on Oct. 10 at Van Nuys Courthouse East at 8:30 a.m. to determine whether the order should be extended for up to 5 years.
The school learned about the threat on Tuesday, Sept. 13, when an SFPD detective informed Assistant Principal Claudio Gomez and Principal Lisa Elan, who in turn informed LAUSD. On Wednesday, the district reached out to their partners in law enforcement.
On Thursday, the school went into a “modified lockdown” and sent a message to parents that said a threat was made by a “community member.” However, the school administration informed staff that same day during recess that the threat was made by a former employee.
Another message was sent on Friday, listing the steps the school was taking to protect the school.
In neither message was it made clear who the community member was or the nature of the threat. Parents who learned about Ramos and his threat only did so through other sources, including articles published in the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol newspaper.
At a PTA meeting held on Sept. 19, parents created a list of questions for the district to answer, asking why it wasn’t communicating with parents about the situation.
On Sept. 28, parents gathered at the school’s auditorium to hear answers directly from LAUSD officials and Elan.
For parent Alyssa Edet, she had hoped that Elan would address the poor communication between the school and the community, and reassure parents that future notifications involving threats would be delivered in a timely manner. She also wanted to hear from the district about their procedures, mainly about why parents received the information that they did.
At the end of the meeting, she felt she did not get any of that.
“Basically, [I got] nothing that I essentially came to the meeting for,” Edet said. “I actually got the complete opposite — more terrible information.”
LAUSD Addresses Concerns
Aside from Elan, there were four LAUSD officials present at the meeting: Debra Bryant, administrator of operations; Elena Jimenez, mental health coordinator; Aurora Mellado, operations coordinator; and Debra Mcintyre-Sciarrina, Cleveland community of schools administrator.
They were also joined by Detective David Hernandez of the Los Angeles School Police Department (LASP).
Mellado began the meeting by explaining the district’s threat assessment protocol, as well as the risk levels they assign to each threat, ranging from no risk to high risk. However, she noted, because each threat assessment document becomes private with attorney-client privilege once implemented, she could not state what risk level was assigned to Ramos.
Mellado explained the steps the district and school took following this information, from increasing LASP patrols, informing staff during recess the following day, working with Maintenance and Operations to purchase privacy fencing and continuing discussions with law enforcement.
Mellado said that parents received notification on Friday through Blackboard Connect, as that was when the district had enough information.
“We were working not only with our partners in law enforcement, we’re working with our partners at the Office of Communications to see what they had,” Mellado explained. “The message was sent out on the 15th … because we had limited information to send out and we’d rather get it right than get it wrong because we didn’t want to give you that information. This is a very delicate subject.”
Hernandez was the next to speak, explaining to parents why the district attorney’s office declined to press charges — as criminal threats have to hit specific criteria for someone to be charged — and that the district didn’t have the resources for regular LASP patrols around the school.
“We will provide [LASP] services obviously when permitted or resources are available,” Hernandez said.
“We have multiple threats in a day. Not every threat constitutes a lockdown. … The purpose of these threats is to terrorize the school and terrorize the community and stop operations. As law enforcement, we vet as best as we can and to [ensure] the safety and best interest of our schools.”
Frustration Bubbles Up
The meeting then opened up for questions. One point of contention was the fact that in neither message sent by Lorne Street Elementary was it clarified that the “community member” was a former employee and that the threat involved shooting up a school.
Other concerned parents asked if the district would, in some way, find a method to prevent Ramos from getting his guns back. Others asked if there was a way for parents themselves to sway the judge into making the temporary order final. No clear answer was given.
One parent asked LAUSD if they were reevaluating their communication procedures, saying that many of them were unhappy with the way information had been sent to them.
“It felt very misleading to us as parents to just be told Thursday, after we have all dropped our kids off unknowingly, and to just be told that it was just a random threat from a community member,” she said.
Hernandez tried to defend their actions by saying that information was still being collected and, being that Ramos was still in custody at the time, that the threat “didn’t meet that criteria” to put the community on high alert.
“With this incident, it was not essential to this school,” Hernandez said. “It could have been the local school down the street from his house.”
For other parents, just the fact that Ramos is no longer in custody terrifies them.
“I’m not sending my kids to school,” one mother said. “I haven’t been sending them. I just found out on Thursday and it’s upsetting to me and I’m scared that if I drop off my kids tomorrow, Friday, [EXPLETIVE] Monday, that you guys don’t know [EXPLETIVE]. Excuse my language, but I’m pissed off because I’m just finding out now.”
“You’re not telling us the threat assessment level, you’re not telling us what’s happening but you want us to bring our children here,” another mother said.
Another parent steered the conversation towards Elan, asking how she would reinstill trust from the community after the “unacceptable” communication thus far.
In response, Elan said, “I have many parents who are getting in there 10,000 steps a day. I see them walking around the campus and I heartily encourage every single parent … on your lunch break, walk around the campus. … You are the eyes and ears of our community.”
Her answer did not go over well with the crowd. Some criticized her for pushing the responsibility on parents to patrol the school.
A mother also heavily criticized the district officials for their lack of urgency in communicating with parents. She even asked if parents should be armed as they patrol the school.
At one point, a father, who declined to provide his name to the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol, spoke up and recounted how on the previous Thursday, he stood outside the school with a clipboard asking for parents’ signatures. The purpose was to request an in-person meeting with Lorne’s administration.
At one point, he noticed Elan behind the fence and briefly made eye contact with her before she left. A few minutes later, five LASP officers showed up, having received a call about someone “causing conflict” in front of the school. He knew the lead officer and got the situation sorted out.
Although he has no proof, he suspects that the call came from someone within the school principal’s office. He directly asked Elan if she called the police on him. She did not answer.
“I was going to continue to collect signatures, but I didn’t,” he said. “It’s an act of intimidation. I told Aurora I’m trying to be here as a positive force, and if that’s just going to cause me issues, I don’t want to do that, but in doing so, it caused me to step back from engaging with the parents and representing us.”
Parents began voicing their concerns and anger over the incident, asking if the police would get called on them for the same thing.
Toward the end of the meeting, when being directly addressed by another father, Elan began scrolling through her phone. She abruptly left shortly thereafter.
“There is no equal line of communication between the parent body and our principal. That is an issue,” the father said.
Frustration Boiling Over
As the meeting ended with no clear path forward, parents left with a feeling of anger and anxiety. For Edet, who has not brought her kids to school since learning about the threat, she’s contemplating sending her children to a private school.
“I probably should have never brought them to LAUSD,” she said. “I actually feel like an idiot because I brought them to LAUSD.”
In the week following the meeting, Edet has said that she has taken her three children out of Lorne Street Elementary.
One of her greatest frustrations from the meeting came from Elan, who she felt was being completely dismissive of every single parent in the meeting. And she isn’t the only one.
Anger-Hernandez said that Elan came off as rude and said she wasn’t doing anything to improve communication or community relations. She said that she and a few parents were even considering finding a way to remove Elan as principal.
“It’s fight or flight, and she flew,” Anger-Hernandez said. “She’s trying to tell us she loves our kids, but her actions spoke louder.”
Anger-Hernandez also reserved some anger for the district, whom she said is still not doing a good job of informing the public.
The day before the PTA meeting, Anger-Hernandez was handing out copies of the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol newspaper (that had details about Ramos) to parents and told them about the upcoming meeting. She said only around seven parents knew about the meeting.
“We’re relying on you [LAUSD] to get us information,” she said. “If we’re [parents] not doing this, how many people wouldn’t know?”
“We lost our trust in the district, and we lost our trust in the school.”