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School Districts Ready for King Verdict : Unrest: Contingency plans are made, but barring violence, officials plan to keep all campuses open.

April 15, 1993|DENISE HAMILTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN GABRIEL VALLEY — Many school districts in the San Gabriel Valley say they plan to launch emergency operating procedures if there are disturbances in their cities after the verdict in the Rodney G. King civil rights case.

But barring an outbreak of violence in their neighborhoods, all school district officials in the region who were interviewed said they intend to keep schools open after the jury's decision is announced.

"We think it would be safer to keep kids at school than at home without parental supervision," said Bruce Matsui, deputy superintendent of Pasadena Unified, echoing the beliefs of most administrators.

School authorities from Pasadena to Pomona have sent memos to teachers and parents alerting them that bus routes may be changed and that parents may have to pick up students from school on the verdict day, depending on what happens in the Los Angeles area.

Some districts plan to broadcast updates on local cable TV channels and have set up emergency phone numbers that parents can call for information. Most say they have also met with local police officials.

In many districts, the post-verdict emergency procedures will closely parallel those used for natural disasters or lock-downs that occur on campuses after violence, such as gang shootings. Teachers will defuse student fears, staff will patrol with walkie-talkies, and armed school police will be on alert.

But administrators are also urging staff to stay calm and squelch rumors and exaggerations.

Some in smaller, more quiet communities such as Arcadia say they plan to simply monitor the situation and stay alert. Additionally, a number of school districts are closed this week for spring break, including Pasadena, South Pasadena, El Monte, San Gabriel and Temple City.

In classrooms from El Monte to Walnut, teachers have spent the past month encouraging students to write essays, draw pictures and discuss their fears and concerns about the case.

Some are using instructional materials put together by the nonprofit Constitutional Rights Foundation after last year's civil disturbances that followed the not-guilty verdicts returned in the case of four Los Angeles Police officers on state charges involving the beating of King, an Altadena motorist.

Pasadena officials, mindful of the looting and shootings that occurred in their city last year after the verdicts, have spent a month planning for this year's federal court proceeding.

Matsui says the district has established a communications center at its headquarters and will keep a telephone line open so that parents and staff can call in to get updates in English, Spanish and Armenian. Schools are also linked to the district by a cable television channel and computer lines.

Pasadena has also divided the district into four zones and plans to send top administrators to schools in each zone after the verdict to help keep order. Administrators will patrol each school site with armed Pasadena school security guards.

In Pomona, the other San Gabriel Valley city that saw some civil unrest last year, district authorities have notified school security guards that they will be expected to work 12-hour shifts if there is trouble.

Teachers and staff have received memos asking them to act "thoughtfully and with sensitivity," said Leonard Duff, director for student and adult services.

In the El Monte City School District, Supt. Jeff Seymour has notified principals that field trips might be canceled if there is civil unrest. Parents have been told that students will not be allowed to get onto school buses until the situation is deemed safe by local police authorities, Seymour said.

San Marino school officials sent memos to staff and teachers this week urging them to maintain business as usual. Should violence erupt after the verdict, the district might close campuses at lunch to prevent students from leaving and have recess activities inside for elementary school children.

Educators in the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District sent letters home this week saying that they will monitor field trips and athletics to make sure children are not bused into areas that are at risk.

"If an occurrence happens in this area, we'll keep the children in school until the danger is over or the parents come pick them up," said Joyce Craig, an assistant superintendent. But she added that the district does not anticipate any problems.

Alhambra school officials are not expecting trouble either. But if any violence occurs near campuses, Supt. Heber Meeks says the schools will follow regular emergency procedures in which students are taken inside classrooms, doors are locked and staff patrol campus peripheries with walkie-talkies to report on dangerous activities.

Los Angeles "is a ways away and I don't really think any trouble will reach us," Meeks said. "But we want to be prepared."

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