Last week’s brutal massacre in the Jerusalem suburb of Har Nof, as well as a recent spate of school shootings across the United States, has left the leaders of many Jewish and secular institutions acutely aware of the imperative for sound security measures.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has recognized that need and is providing grants to help both public and nonpublic schools hire security personnel.
Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh is one of three Jewish day schools in Pennsylvania to receive a $40,000 School Police Officer Grant from the Commonwealth for the 2014-2015 school year to hire a security officer. Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia, and the Silver Academy in Harrisburg will also be receiving the grants.
It was the 2012 shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and six staff members dead that was the impetus for legislation in Pennsylvania to help finance additional security in schools, according to Karen Barall, Mid-Atlantic director for OU Advocacy, the group that worked with the state legislature to ensure that the grant funds were readily accessible to nonpublic schools as well as to public schools.
“The origination of the bill was the Connecticut school shooting,” Barall said. “We pushed for it to apply nonpublic schools as well.”
OU Advocacy worked with Pennsylvania legislators to amend a law passed in the summer of 2013 that allowed public schools access to grant funds to hire security personnel. The lobbying efforts culminated with Gov. Tom Corbett signing Senate Bill 1194 into law last summer, creating easier access to the grants for nonpublic schools.
While Pennsylvania’s Safe School legislation provided for state grants to schools for security personnel, many nonpublic schools had a difficult time accessing those funds, according to an OU news release. Since nonpublic schools cannot receive money directly from the state, they were required to apply for this funding through their local municipality, and many municipalities refused to apply for the grants on behalf of these schools.
Michelle Twersky, associate director of OU Advocacy’s Mid-Atlantic region, worked with state Sen. Joe Scarnati (R-District 25), who developed the original Safe School Legislation, to devise a solution that would give nonpublic schools access to the grant.
Pennsylvania’s Safe School Legislation is the first in the nation to allow state funding to be used for security personnel.
“Through the Safe Schools program and the Homeland Security Program, Hillel Academy has been able to enhance security for our children,” said Daniel Kraut, CEO of Hillel Academy. “We appreciate OU Advocacy’s creative and persistent pursuit of a solution that made it possible for non-public schools to participate in the grant program.”
Kraut declined to comment on specific security measures taken by Hillel Academy but noted “safety is a Hillel Academy priority. We have taken steps to provide increased security for our children.”
Only six nonpublic schools were awarded the grants, according to Barall, three of which were Jewish schools.
“We’re really happy,” Barall said. “We hope more schools will see that people got it and will take advantage of it.”
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.