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Attendance Drop to Cost School $39,000

Campus: Absences of 1,500 El Camino Real High students on anniversary of Columbine shootings will cause loss of state funds.

April 21, 2001|MASSIE RITSCH and RICHARD FAUSSET | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

At least 1,500 El Camino Real High School students were absent from school Friday with officials attributing the absences--which is five times the usual number--to publicity surrounding the anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting and a threatening message found earlier in the month.

Principal Ron Bauer said El Camino's administration and faculty took the rumors and fears seriously from the beginning, but all along encouraged students and parents not to worry. He congratulated and thanked those students who did come to school Friday and urged them in the future to do the same.

"Don't succumb to the unknown," he said. "The fact of the matter is the school has been a safe environment for all these years and we didn't disappoint them today despite all the negative publicity and rumors that were out there."

Bauer sent a letter to parents after the threatening message was found. Earlier this week, the school also held a meeting for parents concerned about the anniversary.

El Camino was the only school in the LAUSD that had a significant drop in attendance Friday, Los Angeles School Police Sgt. Robert Denardo said.

Bauer said the absences on the 3,500-student campus will cost the Los Angeles Unified School District and El Camino at least $39,000 in state funding, which is based on a school's daily attendance. That's enough money to pay a teacher's salary for a year.

In addition, Bauer said, "The net effect is we lost a tremendous amount of instruction today and we'll lose more on Monday as we readmit those students to school."

Bauer has been in Anchorage since Wednesday accompanying the school's academic decathlon team, which is competing in the national finals. He said he has checked in daily with administrators at the school.

On Friday, LAPD and LAUSD officers patrolled the perimeter of the Woodland Hills campus, Bauer said, and counselors and support staff were added to hall patrols. Denardo said patrols were beefed up at every LAUSD school, with El Camino treated no differently from the rest.

The hysteria stemmed from graffiti found earlier in the month on a poster for a school play, Bauer said. It alluded to Columbine-like violence occurring April 20 at the school.

"A lot of kids thought it was meant as a joke," school board member Valerie Fields, who represents El Camino, said of the graffiti. "It's a distorted sense of humor, but we can't tolerate this distortion, because the things that have occurred in San Diego and throughout the country are just too serious. And we lose" the attendance money.

Denardo said that despite a number of rumors at various LAUSD schools, there were no arrests. "Everything went real smooth," he said. "We had no problems at any schools."

Christopher Pfeiffer, a senior at El Camino, said he talked the matter over with his parents and decided, like most of his friends, to stay away from school.

"I just felt my safety wasn't guaranteed 100 percent," he said, adding that he spent the day at Zuma Beach.

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