Every Student Has the Right to Learn in a Safe Environment

By Roslyn Singer

On a Tuesday afternoon in mid-April, the Orthodox Union, together with parents and leaders of Jewish day schools and yeshivahs throughout New York City, appeared before the City Council to make the case that every student in New York City has the right to learn in a safe and secure environment.

“School violence has become all too commonplace in our society,” said Allen I. Fagin, executive vice president of the OU, in his testimony. He noted that, according to the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 1 million nonfatal criminal acts took place on school grounds in 2012 alone, including 749,200 violent incidents.

“Most of us do not choose our child’s school based on its security infrastructure, nor should we need too—but given the attacks in France, and other highly publicized incidents at home, security is at the top of everyone’s mind,” Mr. Fagin says.

In New York City, the New York Police Department’s 5,000 school safety agents are stationed at the entrance to every public school in the city, working to ensure that every public school remains a violence-free zone where every student can thrive. Each agent is trained, is in direct communication with the local precinct and serves as a visible frontline defense for the school.

Unfortunately, no such provision exists for New York City’s nonpublic schools. And many nonpublic schools are simply unable to afford the costs associated with hiring private security guards, leaving them vulnerable and open to potential attacks.

For this reason, the OU is working together with its allies in the City Council to support Intro 65. Introduced by City Council Member David Greenfield, the bill would provide the same uniformed NYPD school safety agents to every school throughout the city—public or private.

“When it comes to the safety of our children, it doesn’t matter what their religious beliefs are or whether they go to public or nonpublic schools,” says Greenfield.

If Intro 65 is passed, no school would be forced to compromise on security due to budget concerns, and school safety would no longer be contingent on higher tuition costs.

“Having the appropriate security infrastructure, such as good lighting, strong windows and a surveillance system, is important. But the most effective—and most visible—way for a school to ensure the safety of its students is by having a uniformed security officer whose sole responsibility is the safety and security of the students, the faculty and the staff,” explains Mr. Fagin.

Daniella Gotlib, a parent at Luria Academy in Brooklyn, noted in her testimony that all of Luria’s income goes directly to teachers’ salaries and classroom materials. While Luria does not have the funds to support a security guard, everyone “would feel much safer if the school had an NYPD school safety agent.”

And having this security in place would allow children to focus on their studies rather than on their environment. “Children need to feel that they are in a safe and secure environment in order to thrive at school,” says Jake Adler, New York policy director for the OU.

Intro 65 has wide bipartisan support but must still be approved to become law. Together with our coalition of Jewish day schools and yeshivahs, OU Advocacy is working to advance Intro 65 through the legislative process at City Hall and will continue to work to ensure the safety of our students.

Roslyn Singer is the director of communications for OU Advocacy at the Orthodox Union.

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This article was featured in the Summer 2015 issue of Jewish Action.
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