“If you see something, say something.” That’s the slogan being sold to Americans to battle the recent terror outbreak in our country. But apparently that rule doesn’t apply when you are responsible for the safety of millions of school children.
Today parents in major cities across America woke up to the news that a terror threat was leveled against schools in New York, Los Angeles, and other metropolitan areas. The threat, in the form of an email sent from Germany, warned of explosives in backpacks using nerve agents and other weapons of mass destruction.
Yet while the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) decided to immediately close all its schools for the day, New York City public officials chose to keep their public schools open.
How is a parent to make sense out of two diametrically opposed public responses?
Even today, during their press conference to defend their choice to close their schools, LA Police Chief Charlie Beck reminded citizens that “if you see something, say something.” Yet the actions of the NY officials sends a very different mixed message.
Clearly, elected officials and school boards in each city used their best information and best judgment to make these calls. But it sends a mixed message to citizens about how to react to terror threats:
- Should a parent make the individual choice to keep a child (or several children) home from school even though their school remains open?
- How are citizens supposed to weigh the suspicious activity we observe every day if public officials seem to ignore clear warning signs?
- If an email from overseas purporting to be a terror warning is ignored by so many high government officials, what then constitutes a “credible threat?”
If a person in a mall sees a lone backpack, how is she supposed to react? If you think your next door neighbor is showing subtle signs of being a potential terrorist or safety threat, how do you weigh the evidence to decide if you should report them?
These questions have always been hard enough for the average person to make. But now, seeing what seems to be a cavalier response on the part of New York officials to a threat that was credible enough to close down the second largest public school system in the nation, how will individuals be able to justify their vague yet gnawing terror concerns?
Today the public officials of New York city made the best call they could with the information they had. But the result may be to numb Americans to the signs of real terror threats. If a threat against school children comes from overseas and has enough authenticity to justify one large public school system to close down for the day, it should be credible enough to have the same effect everywhere.
We may never know which school system made the right call. Or we may, and by then the reality of who made the wrong one will also be painfully clear.