This week marks the deadline for New York City’s Jewish and other non-public schools to apply for a groundbreaking security program in which the city will pay for security guards – just as it does for public schools. The new program the first of its kind in the country, was spearheaded by City Councilman David Greenfield and Teach NYS, a project of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center.
In New York City, more than 200,000 children in pre-K-12th grade — 18.1 percent of the city’s school population — are enrolled in Jewish day schools and yeshivas and Catholic, Muslim and other non-public schools. Yet until this year, after the city council passed Local Law 2, non-public schools had to dig into their often already-strained coffers to get the same protection the city affords public schools.
The new law, which the city council overwhelmingly approved in December 2015, puts aside almost $20 million to pay for the security guards. The protection comes at a time that religious schools and institutions are increasingly coming under threat nationwide.
“I fought for years to bring security guards to non-public schools because every student has the right to a safe place to learn,” Greenfield said. “After five years of hard work, I’m thrilled that I have been able to realize my vision of making New York’s non-public schools safe for all students. I want to thank Teach NYS for their tireless support and advocacy in helping me to make this happen.”
Security guards are a basic necessity to protect children at school, said Morris Tabush, a parent at Barkai Yeshivah in the Midwood section of Brooklyn. While Barkai Yeshivah has had security personnel on site for a couple of years, Tabush said, “It has always been a financial burden. In the yeshiva world, money is always extremely tight.
“So much of our budget goes to financial assistance,” Tabush said. “So to be able to get this help from the city is a huge boost. And I’m grateful to Teach NYS for the tremendous work it did, and continues to do for the Orthodox community and the Jewish community at large.”
Rabbi Pinchas Avruch, executive director of Bais Yaakov Academy of Queens, echoed that sentiment.
“The idea of having security guards at the school came up numerous times but there wasn’t a great urgency, Avruch said. “Then the San Bernardino tragedy happened. And it quickly became a priority.” After all, he said, “every child has the right to a safe school environment.”
Said Allen Fagin, the Orthodox Union’s executive vice president, “Now, more than ever, with families increasingly concerned about security, all kids deserve a safe learning environment and this law helps provide that.”
Local Law 2 allocates $19.8 million in city funding in the first year for non-public schools to train and hire unarmed, licensed, private security guards at schools with at least 300 students, with one additional officer per each 500 students. A school with 2,000 students, for example, would be provided five guards.
OU Advocacy’s work to increase safety for our community extends far beyond schools; in 2005, Nathan Diament, executive director of OU Advocacy, spearheaded the creation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program to help secure synagogues, Jewish day schools and other nonprofits. And every year, OU Advocacy works with partners in Congress to ensure the NPSG is funded.
Since its inception, the federal program has awarded more than $175 million in grants. This past spring, 66 Jewish schools and shuls in and around New York City alone received $5.2 million of the $20 million in grants in this year’s allocation.
That funding, combined with another $13.5 million delivered to non-public schools under New York State’s “SAFE Act” from 2013-2015 – roughly 40 percent to Jewish schools – is enabling Jewish day schools across the state to make their buildings safer. For this year, the state has allocated another $15 million to non-public schools under the SAFE Act.
“Both Jewish schools as well as synagogues have to balance between keeping the attendees safe and buildings secure, and offering a welcoming environment,” said Maury Litwack, OU Advocacy’s director of state political affairs. “We are now in a much better position to do so with these new provisions in effect.”