School Security Must Be A Priority
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School Security Must Be A Priority

The JCC bomb threats underscore the unique risks religious institutions and nonprofits face every day, particularly in the Jewish community.

Students at a Jewish school in Midwood, Brooklyn. MICHAEL DATIKASH/JW
Students at a Jewish school in Midwood, Brooklyn. MICHAEL DATIKASH/JW

It happened again.

This week, 11 bomb threats were called into Jewish Community Centers across the country.

This was not the first time.

In January, nearly 60 bomb threats were reported at 48 Jewish Community Centers in 26 states and one Canadian province.

Unfortunately, these threats are not isolated events.

Recently, New Yorkers erased swastikas on a Manhattan subway with hand sanitizer. In Chicago, a man drove up to the city’s downtown synagogue and left two swastika stickers on its door. And in Houston, a statue of William March Rice on Rice University’s campus was adorned with yet another swastika.

These threats underscore the unique risks Jewish institutions face every day. This heightened threat makes the funding inequity in our state all the more poignant.

All across the U.S., Jewish day schools are struggling to find the resources to protect their students in an increasingly dangerous environment. While public schools receive the necessary funds to meet security needs, nonpublic schools often get the short end of the funding stick.

The Teach Advocacy Network has made security for all children – including all nonpublic school students – a priority.  And while still wanting, the security situation in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania has drastically improved today over what pertained just a few years ago. Legislatures in the tristate area have demonstrated a desire to keep all their students safe.

Consider New York State, where nonpublic schools received zero security dollars prior to 2013. When the legislature passed the SAFE Act, Teach NYS lobbied to include nonpublic schools, with an initial allocation of $4.5 million in security funds, or nine dollars a pupil. Last year, Teach NYS successfully advocated for an increased security funding to $15 million, or $30 per child.

In New York City, we’ve made tremendous progress. After extensive back and forth with Mayor De Blasio and the New York City Council, Teach NYS and our allies successfully secured nearly $20 million for nonpublic schools to hire state licensed security guards to protect their students. This legislation took months of hard work and compromise, but ultimately lived up to the principle that every child deserves a safe education.

In New Jersey, Teach NJ advocated for the Secure Schools for All Children Act, increasing security funding for nonpublic schools from $25 pupil to $50 per pupil for the 2016-2017 school year. In subsequent years, this number will increase to $75 per pupil. But even this generous increase falls far below the $144 per pupil allocated to public school students.

In Pennsylvania, we’ve seen similar progress. Teach PA crafted the amendment to Pennsylvania’s Safe School legislation in 2013 to provide nonpublic schools with a security guard reimbursement grant. In the 2016-2017 schoolyear, the legislation provides for a $1.6 million grant program, providing up to $40,000 to nonpublic schools to meet security needs.

We are certainly grateful for these increases, but even these improved allocations do not meet the heightened security needs of our community, nor the basic standards of fairness.

This year, the Teach Advocacy Network is lobbying for further increases in each of the aforementioned states. And we won’t stop until every child – whether they attend public or nonpublic schools – can go to school in a safe environment.

It would be nice to live in a world where these kinds of expenses are unnecessary, but the events of the past weeks are an urgent reminder that we don’t have that luxury.

Jewish schools and institutions around the world are waking up to the reality that keeping our communities safe requires meaningful resources. From Melbourne, to London, to Paris, to New York, Jewish institutions are hiring security guards and installing security cameras and other equipment. The world is changing, and we have to adapt to the new normal.

It is critical for members of the Jewish community to make school security a priority with their legislators. For better or worse, lawmakers respond to public pressure. When members of our communities raise their voices and demand equal funding for school safety, that’s when politicians will listen. And listen they should, before tragedy compels it.

Allen Fagin is the CEO of the Orthodox Union. The Teach Advocacy Network is a project of the OU.

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