On the last day before Christmas break, crossing guard Esther Munguia always brings candy canes to hand out to the kids at Chatsworth Park Elementary School.

But on Friday, the mood was hardly festive.

"As I was driving here, I was almost in tears, because I'm thinking, `How are the parents dealing with this right now?' " she said as she stood outside the school. "This is the place where our kids are supposed to be safe."

In Los Angeles, as police stepped up patrols and school officials assessed security plans in the wake of the mass school shooting in Connecticut, parents faced their own choices.

Should they tell their kids what happened or wait for them to bring it up? If they talked about it, what should they say?

As she walked up to Chatsworth Park Elementary just before dismissal, Stephanie Foreman hoped her 5-year-old daughter hadn't heard about the shootings. And she didn't plan to tell her about it.

"I just don't want her to be afraid," Foreman said.

Jerry De La Torre said he figured his son, who's 10, had already heard what happened. He said he planned to remind him to pay attention to what's around him because you never know what can happen.

When he heard reports children as young as 5 were among the victims at the school in Newtown, Conn., De La Torre immediately thought of his nephew, a kindergartner at Chatsworth Park.

"They're still babies," De La Torre said. "They don't know what's going on."

Though there were no threats in L.A., city police and county sheriff's deputies stepped up patrols around schools to reassure people.

Los Angeles Police Department officers were directed to provide additional patrols to local school campuses on Friday, said Los Angeles Unified School District Police Department Chief Steve Zipperman. Those extra patrols will continue when students return from holiday break on Jan. 7.

`We know there are nerves rattled," said Zipperman, appearing at a downtown press conference to discuss safety measures at LAUSD.

The school police force deploys more than 200 officers throughout the district on campus and nearby areas for patrol, Zipperman said. Additionally, every campus within LAUSD has a school safety plan in place.

There are 457 elementary schools in LAUSD. There are no armed school police officers stationed at elementary schools, Zipperman said, but officers are on call to respond to emergency situations.

The elementary schools have "closed campuses," meaning a stranger can't simply walk into a classroom. The layouts of the schools vary, but it most cases, visitors have to enter through the main office and be allowed to access the rest of the area.

Also, LAPD and LAUSDP officers also are certified yearly in active shooter scenarios, he said.

"This is something that we train for...this is something that every school does," Zipperman said.

Still, he acknowledged there are limitations to what his department can provide in terms of campus safety.

"If someone wants to jump a fence, they're going to," he said.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck expressed sympathy for the victims of the Connecticut shooting and their relatives.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families in Connecticut and all who are affected by this unspeakable act," Beck said in a written statement. "The LAPD is totally committed to work with our LAUSD and private school partners to ensure that our students and staff are safe."

Already, following Tuesday's fatal shooting at an Oregon mall, LAPD officers had been talking at roll calls about how to handle shootings in public places, Lt. Paul Vernon of the Mission Division said.

At Chatsworth Park Elementary, Friday afternoon looked much like any other as kids laughed and played outside, waiting for their parents to pick them up.

Munguia's candy canes sat next to a stuffed Santa on a chair on the sidewalk, and she handed out the treats to children after helping them cross the street.

But some of the parents walking up to get their kids were red-faced as they considered the conversations they might have in a few minutes. Several didn't want to talk.

"I'm here to pick up my daughter," one woman said in a choked voice.

Foreman said she almost came to pick up her daughter early from school Friday, thinking she could keep her safe.

After thinking of how far away the shootings were, she reconsidered. Intellectually, she knows her child is safe in school. But emotionally, it was a tough call.

"I just wanted my kid," Foreman said.

That was a common sentiment. Parents across the country, including President Barack Obama, spoke of hugging their children a little tighter Friday.

De La Torre said the tragedy was a reminder to do that every day, as he does with his son.

"Every morning, I tell him, `I love you,' and I give him a hug," he said.

eric.hartley@dailynews.com

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