Terror, anxiety, helplessness, anger and depression. These are some of the words that describe the feeling I have every time there is a horrible school shooting in this country. As a head of school, I feel a personal responsibility for the safety and security of the children in our society, not just the ones in my care. They are the most innocent and helpless members among us and we have a responsibility to ensure their safety. School is a place where our children should feel safe. It is a place where they should feel nurtured as we inculcate within them the skills, morals and ethics they will need to become contributing members of society.
I was initially very happy to hear that New Jersey politicians were designating a huge increase in funds to ensure school safety, but shocked to learn that they declined to give any additional funding to nonpublic schools, like The Moriah School and other day schools. The allocation of additional funds shows that they understand that schools are facing an increase in security threats. If so, what are we to make of their refusal to allocate any extra funding to our students? Are public school children’s lives more worthy of protection? Hardly!
The history of this injustice goes back a few months. During budget discussions, our state legislators recognized the security issues for New Jersey schools and decided to allocate more money toward school security. They budgeted an additional $87 million toward this priority, but decided that the allocation would only go to public school students. While the state allocates approximately $210 per student in public school for their security needs, it only allocates $75 per child in nonpublic schools. The state has apparently decided that your children and mine don’t deserve as much funding for security, which is ironic, since faith-based schools may be the most at risk in today’s environment.
Why is there a double standard between security funding for public and nonpublic schools? All students—no matter if they go to private or public school, no matter their race or ethnicity—are entitled to be safe in school. Unfortunately, school shootings have become a regular occurrence in our country and the conversation about school security impacts all of our children. Passing a budget that provides sufficient aid for school security is critical to keeping our children safe. Security funding is necessary; it isn’t optional.
As a community, we should be enraged by this. We should write to our representatives and tell Trenton that we demand that our children be just as safe in school as our neighbor’s children who attend public schools.
It is with this in mind that I’m excited to share that The Moriah School partnered with Teach NJS, a nonpartisan organization advocating for equitable funding for New Jersey nonpublic schools, to lead a mission to Trenton on October 18 to remind our legislators that our children’s safety is paramount to us as a community and should be just as important to them. The mission gave our students and parents the opportunity to civically engage with our elected officials and ask them for support on the the current Supplemental Appropriations Bill (S.3080/A.4597), which would double security funding for nonpublic schools like ours. This is what it takes to make strides in the community: liaising with our elected officials about legislation that is critical to our children’s well-being.
I hope my colleagues in the other day schools and yeshivas will consider doing something similar because, at the end of the day, this is about our community as a whole and not our schools individually.
Your children, my students, deserve to feel safe in school and to focus their energies on becoming the future leaders of our community without worrying about feeling safe in our schools.
By Rabbi Daniel Alter
Rabbi Daniel Alter is head of school at The Moriah School in Englewood, New Jersey. The Moriah School is one of the nation’s premier Jewish day schools, educating over 600 students from across Bergen County. For more information, visit www.moriahschool.org.