The de Blasio administration has arrived at a landmark agreement to fund school safety agents to any New York City yeshivah that requests them, a startling turnaround hailed by yeshivos as the first of its kind anywhere in the world.
Months after rejecting a bill that would have provided police officers to yeshivos, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a compromise with the legislation’s sponsor, Councilman David Greenfield. Larger yeshivos may apply for funding based on how many students they have, and if approved may hire agents from a select list of private security agencies.
The original bill, which already has 45 city council sponsors out of 51 lawmakers, was not in the 2016 budget when the plan was announced in June. The mayor began discussions with Greenfield about two months ago and announced the agreement in a statement last Wednesday.
“The safety of all children is our collective responsibility, and that’s something the NYPD and city agencies act on each and every day,” de Blasio said. “We’re pleased we could work productively with Speaker Mark-Viverito, Councilman Greenfield and their colleagues on an initiative that gives the administration the flexibility to develop a program that recognizes community needs, while addressing administration concerns about diverting critical police resources.”
“Nothing is more important than our children’s safety,” Greenfield said. “This legislation recognizes that all children, regardless of where they go to school, deserve to learn in a safe environment.”
According to Wiley Norvell, a spokesman for the mayor, the bill will be voted on early next year and implemented on April 1, 2016 — a week after Purim.
Under the bill, the city will provide at least one security guard to non-public schools with 300 or more students. Schools with 500 students will be entitled to two agents, with every additional 500 students making them eligible for an additional guard. A school with 2,000 students will be able to hire five guards.
About 75 percent of yeshivos are considered eligible, according to data provided by Greenfield’s office. In the 2013-2014 school year, there were 265,923 non-public school students, of which 192,910, or 72.5 percent, attended schools of 300 or more students.
Of the total, 106,365 students attended yeshivos and 87,157, or 81.9 percent of those, attended schools of 300 or more students.
The safety agents must be registered and trained according to state law and they must be referred by a state-licensed security-guard agency. The law will also require that the guards are paid the prevailing wage, or about $49,000 a year.
The agents will all be unarmed civilians — police do not allow any guns into schools — and they will be required to submit an annual report to the New York Police Department detailing any incidents that occurred. But the guards will be answerable to the yeshivos and will be available based on their schedule. So ,if a yeshivah has mishmar on Thursday, the security is covered for the late hours.
Several larger yeshivos have in recent years hired security agents at private expense. The agreement now allows hundreds of others to the same. Several yeshivah administrators who spoke to Hamodia were enthusiastic about the bill.
“This is landmark legislation!” emailed Rabbi Ephraim Scherman, administrator of Bais Brocho girls’ school. “Councilman David Greenfield will long be remembered for reassuring parents that their children will be safe. Councilman Greenfield simply does not give up on the essential issues, and for that he has earned the gratitude of us all.”
“Beautiful,” said Rabbi Dovid Stein, administrator of Yeshiva Karlin Stolin. “I congratulate Councilman David Greenfield for working on this until now. I believe it’s fantastic.”
Another administrator praised the compromise as a “good start” but said that he hoped it would be made available to shuls and smaller yeshivos as well.
Spending on the program is capped at $19.8 million in the first year and allows for future increases as needed. The city estimates that about 500 guards will be hired.
“This will be a targeted and fiscally responsible effort that will bolster security where it’s most appropriate,” de Blasio said. “Additional security guards, who will work closely with the NYPD, will put more eyes and ears on the ground and will improve our ability to keep all New Yorkers safe.”
The agreement, 21 months in the works, according to Greenfield, was praised by the gamut of Jewish groups.
“This is wonderful news,” said Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Agudath Israel’s executive vice president. He said that Hashem is the Shomer Yisroel, “but that does not absolve us of our shtadlonus responsibility to take those steps. This new city program will go a long way toward helping us discharge that responsibility.”
Josh Mehlman, chairman of the Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition, thanked Greenfield for spearheading the effort.
“David’s creativity and leadership enabled this effort to come to fruition,” Mehlman said in a statement, adding that “we are hopeful that the mayor will eventually increase funding to allow the inclusion of more schools, and multiple security agents for the schools with larger facilities.”
Councilman Chaim Deutsch, who chairs the council’s Non-Public Schools Subcommittee, called the agreement “great news.” He urged yeshivos to implement other measures, such as scheduling an NYPD security survey and putting in cameras, safety drills and visitor passes.
Greenfield told Hamodia that the deal was “huge,” thanking the mayor for working with him.
“This is huge; no other city in the world does this,” Greenfield said. “This is a very big deal.”