Jewish Day Schools in Pennsylvania Seek Inclusion in School Security Grant Program

Jewish Day Schools in Pennsylvania Seek Inclusion in School Security Grant Program

Students and staff members at Jewish day schools are asking Pennsylvania lawmakers for help paying for security and safety measures among a recent increase in attacks against the Jewish community.

Delegations from Jewish schools in Pennsylvania went to the state Capitol on Tuesday to meet with legislators about the inclusion of non-public schools in a year-old $60 million school security grant program. The groups included people from Jewish day schools in the same neighborhood as the Pittsburgh synagogue where 11 were killed and six were wounded in an attack last October.

Pennsylvania started a $10 million school safety grant program following the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Last year, it created a new, $60 million school and community security grant program following the Parkland, Fla. shooting, but private schools were not included in the program.

Jewish day schools have been increasing security in recent years, but many parents and staff are more alarmed in the wake of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh last year and the shooting at Poway Chabad synagogue near San Diego last month.

"Our students that go to school that next Monday, they're aware, they're aware of what happened on Passover at the synagogue, and what happens when you're wearing a yarmulke on your head," said Arielle Frankston-Morris, executive director of the Jewish education advocacy organization Teach PA.

Frankston-Morris said security has been a concern for the Jewish community for “a long time, […] "But after Pittsburgh, you can't ignore it, it's just in your face."

According to the Anti-Defamation League, violent attacks against the Jewish community in the U.S. doubled last year, and overall attacks that include vandalism and harassment remained near record-high levels.

Parents of the Jewish day school Silver Academy in Harrisburg are asked to pay a security fee each year, said Samara Sofian, director of development for the school. However, the funds don’t go far enough, and the expense increases annually even if the school isn’t increasing security measures, she said.

Security requires a significant cost and must come first, said Isaac Entin, head of the Caskey Torah Academy in Philadelphia. He said school officials are much more aware of the issue lately.

"There's no way not to," Entin said. "It's how you walk down the street. It's how you go to services on Saturday, it's what happens every day as you watch the kids come into school and get off the bus, watching kids, any kids from any school get on the bus as you drive through your neighborhood. The world has changed."

Entin said the school is “digging deep” to pay for security measures. He said that it’s difficult to get federal homeland security grants, and the pool of state funding available to private schools is much more limited than it is for public schools.

"Non-public schools aren't being treated the same as public schools," Entin said. "We all have same threats, but we're not giving equal footing for safety."