School officials in Wisconsin say reaction to threats in LA, NY show how difficult these cases can be

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MILWAUKEE -- The United States' two biggest school districts get the same threat. One -- in Los Angeles -- decides to call off school, with the superintendent saying students won't go back until he's absolutely sure everything is safe. The other -- in New York -- decides just the opposite, dismissing the threat as an apparent "hoax."

Officials here in Wisconsin say the very different responses in Los Angeles and New York show how difficult it can be to respond to such threats.

A man who was once charged with overseeing safety for Milwaukee Public Schools says making the right decision is a tough balancing act.

The most recent threat to a school in southeastern Wisconsin came on Monday, December 14th.

Someone called a bomb threat into Wauwatosa East High School.

Bomb threat at Wauwatosa East High School

Bomb threat at Wauwatosa East High School

Police consulted with school district officials, and it was determined students would be released early (around 2:50 p.m.) on Monday. This early release occurred just a few minutes before the normal release time.

After-school activities were cancelled Monday.

Peter Pochowski, Milwaukee Public Schools' former chief of safety

Peter Pochowski, Milwaukee Public Schools' former chief of safety

Peter Pochowski, Milwaukee Public Schools' former chief of safety says each situation is unique.

"Unfortunately, there's no meter that you can put on this that goes into the red and therefore, we'll close schools -- but they have a checklist of things and I can't get into the checklist, of course, but when it goes down several items and those items are there, those facts are there, the tendency is to close the schools," Pochowski said.

Pochowski now directs the Wisconsin School Safety Coordinators Association.

He says he understands the decision to cancel classes in Los Angeles Tuesday -- but also, the decision to keep them open in New York.

"I ask this question all the time: when has anybody ever called in a bomb threat and then actually done a bomb threat and actually performed it?" Pochowski said.

Bomb threat in Yorkville

Bomb threat in Yorkville

In early October, FOX6 News reported on at least four different bomb threats to schools in Pewaukee, Grafton, Yorkville and Sturtevant.

Yorkville administrator Dave Alexander says he has no regrets over evacuating the elementary school.

"Parents send their children to my school and they entrust us with their safety and we take that seriously and that means there really isn`t an option to decide whether this is real or not. We just respond as if it`s a serious threat," Dave Alexander said.

Alexander says consequences are important in these cases, but says it can be difficult to make that discipline known since juvenile cases are not public record.

However, he says word of a severe punishment tends to make its way to other students.

Threat at John Long Middle School

Threat at John Long Middle School

Pochowski says with text messaging and social media, he doesn't expect this problem to go away any time soon.

The following is a letter obtained by FOX6 News from Wauwatosa East High School Principal Nick Hughes to parents after Monday's bomb threat:

Dear District Parents/Guardians,

This afternoon school officials were made aware of a phoned in bomb threat called into Wauwatosa East High School. The Wauwatosa School District takes a very serious approach to any threats made to our school community and will take direct actions immediately.

In keeping with the District’s crisis communication plan, district administrators contacted the Wauwatosa Police Department and began investigating immediately. We also evacuated the building of staff and students for the day. All after school and night activities were canceled at the building. After this evacuation, a thorough search of the building was conducted by law enforcement officials.

Again this is nonspecific threat and we are following all necessary protocols to ensure the safety and well being of the Wauwatosa School Community. The Wauwatosa Police Department will continue to investigate this threat. In addition, the district will be taking additional security measures in response to this situation.

Please help us by talking to your child about the serious consequences and long-term effects this type of behavior would have on his/her life. Encourage him/her to advocate for a positive, safe school environment. Reinforce the need to have your child report health and safety concerns to appropriate staff or to you so that all our schools can remain safe, open and student-centered educational facilities. With your help and support, we can provide the type of educational environment, programming and co-curricular activities that our community expects.

The District strives to communicate with parents/guardians in a timely manner. At this time, we have no indication that this is a credible threat and school will be open on Tuesday, December 15, 2015. If new information arises, there will be further communication through our automated phone and email system.

Please do not hesitate to contact my office if you have any questions or if your student has any information that might be helpful to the on-going investigation. Thank you for your help.

Below, you'll see video of officials in Los Angeles, who held a news conference Tuesday afternoon to discuss the threat the closed schools:

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