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Lockdown irks South L.A. school

Manual Arts campus is irate about Friday's scene: hours without food, restroom breaks or information.

November 25, 2008|Jason Song | Song is a Times staff writer.

Teachers and students at Manual Arts High School were still reeling Monday after they said they spent up to seven hours with no official information or, in some cases, access to a bathroom or food after a reported gunman was seen on campus.

The allegedly armed student was seen during a lunchtime scuffle Friday and the school went into lockdown at 1 p.m., according to Los Angeles Unified School District officials.

Students and teachers were kept in their classrooms for several hours while Los Angeles Police Department officers, including members of the SWAT unit, searched the South L.A. campus.

Nearly 2,000 students were taken by school buses to the Sports Arena beginning around 4 p.m., where they were picked up by their parents. The last student was picked up shortly after 8.

No injuries were reported and the suspect was never found.

But many were still angry Monday because they said they did not hear from school administrators and had to depend instead on their cellphones or classroom televisions for news.

District officials said information about the lockdown was relayed over the public address system but that some classroom speakers might have been broken.

"There were a few incidents where [some] did not get all the information," said Earl Perkins, the assistant superintendent of school operations.

Perkins added that an adult under police supervision went to classrooms that had broken speakers to deliver updates.

Gloria Hernandez, a social studies teacher, said she had to call other colleagues to find out why the school was in lockdown.

"We were totally in the dark," she said.

Freshman Jessica Rodriguez, 14, was in English class when the lockdown began. She said she never heard an announcement from administrators, and when she couldn't reach her parents, she burst into tears.

"There were so many different stories, and I was scared," she said.

Teachers union representatives visited the school Monday to meet with members, and union president A.J. Duffy said he was told that the administration was slow to react and share information.

"You should be giving updates and bulletins over the loudspeaker," he said. "You should keep everyone in the loop."

Many students said they were able to use the restroom under the supervision of teachers or security officers.

But others said they weren't allowed to leave their classes -- something that teachers union officials say has been a problem during lockdowns at other schools and that their classmates had to relieve themselves in cups or wastepaper baskets.

District officials said the practice is standard because they do not want students wandering the campus during a potentially dangerous situation.

Lockdowns are not uncommon on Los Angeles school campuses, and similar problems have been reported. The district does not appear to have altered its policies and practices, mainly out of concern over student safety.

Hernandez teaches in a portable trailer that is attached to another classroom. When one student had to use the restroom, everyone else in the class would go to the other room until the student was finished.

Duffy said union members told him that some of the trash cans weren't emptied over the weekend.

"Can you imagine the smell when they came back?" he said.

Students also went hours without food, although some said they were able to find a way around that. Junior James Broussard said he was in cooking class when the lockdown occurred.

"We had some snickerdoodles, so it wasn't so bad," he said.

On a Times blog, one teacher said that as she was sneaking a couple of students to the restroom, she passed SWAT officers buying drinks from a vending machine.

She said she was stunned to see from her classroom that some school staff got into their cars and left during the lockdown. "My questions: Do the students and staff and any and all human beings have any rights" during a lockdown? "Who makes the decisions?"

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Jason.song@latimes.com

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