L.A. Private Schools Erect Opaque Walls to Paparazzi-Proof Campuses

Illustration by: Rami Niemi

"It is indeed a fortress," says one exec of the star-kid-heavy Center for Early Education as institutions resort to camera surveillance, guard patrol and gated parking lots to keep out photographers and other threats.

"We used to have all these green tarps covering the fence around the school perimeter, like at a golf club, so that you can't see in," explains Clara-Lisa Kabbaz, president of top private school Le Lycee Francais de Los Angeles. "But those were quickly replaced by Brad Pitt when his kids started years ago. He said, 'If you're a paparazzi, your lens can come right up and see through.' So now we have completely opaque fence covers. Every time I look at them, I think of him."

Given L.A.'s high volume of private schools catering to the offspring of Hollywood icons (and students with their own celebrity), a canny paparazzo might envision these institutions as easy photo pickins. But security is becoming as integral as STEM courses.

John Thomas Dye elementary, a bucolic campus in the Santa Monica foothills, until recently was surrounded by white-slatted wood fences. "You could see right into the school from the street, but now the walls are high and solid," says one longtime JTD dad, noting that the walls keep out external snoops — "but parents weren't too happy when Gwyneth [Paltrow] posted videos of her daughter singing at a holiday concert, which were picked up online."

At the celeb-kid-heavy Center for Early Education (CEE), "there are cameras everywhere," says Gotham Group founder Ellen Goldsmith-Vein. "The guards patrol inside, including all stairwells, and the periphery. Gates are locked automatically. No one is getting in or out without an individualized code, which each family receives annually. It is indeed a fortress." A veteran Hollywood publicist who recently toured several schools alongside Christina Aguilera and Ali Larter says she was wowed by the security. At Wildwood in Santa Monica, "Each family has a card on their dashboard or in their hand and can't pick up their child without it," says Emma Katznelson, director of admissions. The school also has strict visitation rules, even for parents. "Don't show up without an appointment because you are in the neighborhood."

Jeff Zisner, CEO of AEGIS Security, increasingly is tapped by schools to make campuses airtight. Zisner says incursions by paparazzi professionals are rare — most photo agencies follow self-determined rules to avoid schools — but there have been incidents involving what Zisner calls "the paparazzi enthusiast, who is looking to make a few bucks and isn't respectful of how things work." And even when respecting boundaries, the paparazzi remain inventive. "Where the most paparazzi are, truthfully, is Coldwater Canyon Park [in Beverly Hills] because that's where our kids play," says the publicist.

Of course, there are concerns larger than invasion of privacy. "Since the San Bernardino attacks, the security has gone way up," says one mother at Laurence School in Sherman Oaks. "The brand-new parking lot is private and gated." She notes that two or three parking spaces have been auctioned off during the school's annual fundraiser for upward of $10,000; last year, they were won by two different rock stars. Some parents hire private security guards to accompany their kids. "The guards don't go to class," says Zisner, whose firm provides such services, "but they facilitate pickup and drop-off and stay put throughout the day."

This story first appeared in the Aug. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.