Obama School Safety Plan Will Seek to Address Concerns of Jewish Schools

By Judith Dinowitz. 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 Barack Obama’s “school safety” plan and how it will affect the nonpublic school community. The plan is a part of a broader proposal to reduce violence in the nation and was developed by Vice President Joe Biden in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings.

Secretary Duncan, joined by David Esquith, Director of the Office of Safe and Healthy Students, and Maureen Dowling, Director of the Office of Nonpublic Education, first presented an overview of the plan. They set forth its four main goals: making sure that every school has an emergency management plan, creating safe and positive school environments, providing quality mental health treatment for students and young adults, and ensuring that schools are safe.

An issue of special interest to the Jewish community in regard to school safety is the unique threat Jewish educational institutions face from anti-Semites bent on the destruction of life and property. It is a concern that Agudath Israel of America presented earlier to the Vice President’s task force, and Rabbi Abba Cohen, the group’s Vice President for Federal Affairs, had the opportunity to pursue the matter further on the call with the federal officials.

Rabbi Cohen 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, which commonly emanates from a disgruntled employee or mentally disturbed student, and requires a different response.

In response, Mr. Esquith made clear that the President envisions a comprehensive way of addressing violence, in regard to both preventing it and responding to it. He 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 too.”

Another concern presented by Agudath Israel in its comments to the Vice President, and raised by several participants on the call, relates to whether private and religious schools will be able to participate, in reinvigorated existing programs and in new programs, on equal terms with public schools. Proposals include the provision, by the Administration, of a model for how to develop and implement comprehensive emergency management plans. Also, 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.

To this, the federal officials assured the groups that all programs to be implemented under their jurisdiction have a statutory requirement to treat private and religious schools equitably and that they are working closely with other federal departments that are running safety programs impacting schools to likewise include all schools. In terms of programs that are currently in the plan or may be on the drawing board for the future, Mr. Esquith said the department is “interested in making sure that all students are safe in all schools. And we will do everything we can to follow through on that.”

Agudath Israel of America was among those included in the conference call due to the organization’s longstanding and historic role in helping yeshivas and day 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.

Overall, Rabbi Cohen was pleased with the report. “The Department certainly expressed its commitment to equity for private schools and to addressing the unique needs of Jewish and other schools,” the Agudath Israel official 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.” TLS.

This content, and any other content on TLS, may not be republished or reproduced without prior permission from TLS. Copying or reproducing our content is both against the law and against Halacha. To inquire about using our content, including videos or photos, email us at [email protected].

Stay up to date with our news alerts by following us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

**Click here to join over 20,000 receiving our Whatsapp Status updates!**

**Click here to join the official TLS WhatsApp Community!**

Got a news tip? Email us at [email protected], Text 415-857-2667, or WhatsApp 609-661-8668.


  1. If you believe that you can rely on government for safety and protection, you need only look at other government programs to determine the ratio of success and failure.

    Safety and security is most effective at the local level where citizens rely on themselves to provide security.

    A failure in a government program can have disastrous results. Well intended programs are always the victem of budget cuts.

Comments are closed.