The new year at Jewish day schools involves more than new teachers, new clothes and new backpacks. Particularly in a calendar year that began with a wave of bomb threats phoned to Jewish institutions across the country and a summer that ended with death and injuries caused by white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, day schools — always security minded — are reviewing and in some cases increasing their protections.
Students might not know it, but at some schools teachers discussed Charlottesville at faculty sessions before opening day in an attempt to process their own thoughts and to consider how best to answer questions about that ugly and frightening event.
Some schools have an increased police presence this year. Others are keeping a close watch on entries and exits. Teachers are talking about security protocols with students and running them through drills.
“The reality is that we all anticipate there will be more problems in the future,” Paul Bernstein, CEO of Prizmah, a consortium of Jewish day school networks, said. “The state of the world, the state of uncertainty and attacks that happen generally and against Jews in many parts of the world, the risks of our own national political environment, create situations where threats and attacks can happen.”
School administrators have come to recognize that effective and frequent communication with parents is key, so threats are not overstated or misconstrued. Among other things, that was one of the lessons learned from the bomb threats earlier this year, as the issue of interacting with parents was found to be one of the more stressful aspects of handling the threat.
“How you communicate with the families in those schools is a crucial part of the success of that,” Bernstein said, noting how social media spreads information quickly and often without context.
Even small things can enhance security. Gesher Jewish Day School in Fairfax, Va., for example, dropped their system of codes that referred to specific drills, because they found them to be confusing and upsetting to children. Now they call the situation what it is: a tornado drill or an active shooter drill. The school also rewrote its security manual, adding bullet points to make information easier to find in an emergency.
Jewish institutions are involved in a constant struggle to find the proper balance between adequate security and an open atmosphere. And the Jewish community has become adept at working with law enforcement to provide overall safety. That’s a major difference between Jewish life in our community today and our more innocent and naive communal situation a little more than a decade ago. We commend the seriousness with which days schools take security. We wish them a successful and safe new year.