Obama School Safety Plan Seeks to Address Jewish Concerns

Washington - In a conference call this week with private school advocates across the nation, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other Department of Education officials discussed President Obama’s “school safety” plan and how it will affect the nonpublic school community.

Rabbi Abba Cohen, Vice President for Federal Affairs for Agudath Israel of America, pointed to the special needs of particular groups of schools catering to religious or racial minorities that face threats of a “different type” – those that come from white extremists or Muslim fundamentalists. This threat, he explained, does not fit the mold of the school violence the nation has experienced, that of a disgruntled employee or mentally disturbed student, and requires a different response.

Mr. Esquith assured Rabbi Cohen that “all of the elements of the plan that address violence in one form or another would encompass the types of insidious violence that you alluded to.”

To help ensure greater safety, the Administration proposes an additional 5,000 mental health professionals on-site in the schools, 1,000 more resource officers, and funding for security equipment and training, as needed. Federal officials assured the groups that all programs implemented under their jurisdiction have a statutory requirement to treat private and religious schools equitably. Mr. Esquith said the department is “interested in making sure that all students are safe in all schools.”

Other Agudath Israel representatives who participated on the call included Rabbi Moshe Matz, Director, Agudath Israel of Florida; Rabbi Ariel Sadwin, Director, Mid-Atlantic Region; Rabbi Rob Glazer, Director, Arizona Region; Rabbi A.D. Motzen, Director, Ohio Region; and Mrs. Deborah Zachai, Director of Education Affairs.

“The Department certainly expressed its commitment to equity for private schools and to addressing the unique needs of Jewish and other schools,” Rabbi Cohen observed. “But, as the Secretary said, these are only proposals. It will be up to our groups to work hard to ensure that Congress pass a bill that turns this commitment into law and, with G-d’s help, serve to keep our children out of harm’s way.”