Washington — At its most recent session, the Federal Commission on School Safety heard concerns relating to Jewish schools in testimony offered by Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel of America’s Vice President for Federal Affairs and Washington Director. It was the Commission’s first public listening session and many of the nation’s leading education and civil rights groups, as well public officials, teachers, students and parents, shared a diversity of views with the panel.
After noting the need for a significant increase in resources and a broad multi-prong approach to address the problem of school violence, Rabbi Cohen pointed out that all schools face the problem of “internal” dangers connected to the school — threats related, for example, to troubled students or disgruntled employees — and that these must be addressed in whatever setting them may be found. “All children, no matter the school they attend — public, private or religious — deserve to learn in a safe environment,” Rabbi Cohen averred, “and federal solutions must include providing all school children with a full measure of protection.”
Over the past year, Agudath Israel and other groups have worked successfully for the inclusion of private and religious schools in school safety, disaster relief and other federal programs.
But the Agudath Israel representative went further, pointing also to what he described as the “external” dangers that some schools, particularly Jewish schools, also face. “These threats come from domestic and foreign hate-peddlers, like supremacists and terrorists, who have vowed to inflict violence on our community and who see our schoolchildren as tempting targets,” Rabbi Cohen said. The Jewish community receives a disproportionate share of targeted violence and numerous suspicious acts and threats have reportedly been experienced by Jewish schools in several major metropolitan areas over the years.
“It was important to convey to the Commission the sense of ‘high alert’ our community feels and that the threat we face is a very real one,” Rabbi Cohen stated after the Commission session. “Our national leaders must realize that different schools face different kinds of dangers and that, in fashioning a comprehensive strategy and response, all types of threats — ‘internal’ and ‘external’ ones — must be considered and addressed.”
The Commission, which was established by President Donald Trump, is comprised of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who serves as chair. The panel is expected to conduct more hearings and issue its recommendations by year’s end.