Sunday, 23 July 2017

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Florida Jewish day schools allotted state money for security after bomb threats

By Susan Jacobson, For Orlando Sentinel, On 07 June 2017, Read Original

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Surrounded by a gaggle of schoolchildren at Orlando Torah Academy, Gov. Rick Scott announced Tuesday that the budget he signed last week includes more than $654,000 in funds for security at Jewish schools.

The money is earmarked for improvements such as alarm systems, security cameras, bulletproof windows and fencing.

Jewish community centers and schools, including two in Central Florida, received numerous bomb threats in the first few months of 2017, forcing evacuations. About 10,000 children attend Jewish day schools in Florida, Scott said.

“It’s hard to learn if you don’t feel safe,” he told the students, their teachers and guests.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and state Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, who pushed for the appropriation, also made brief remarks.

Some parents were so afraid that they withdrew their children from school.

“That’s not acceptable in the United States of America,” Fine said. “No child should have to go to a school where they feel unsafe.”

This is the first time the state has provided such grants to nonpublic schools, Fine said.

Wilfredo Ruiz, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said his group is happy the Legislature is taking the safety of religious institutions seriously. But he said it may be unconstitutional to allocate the money to only to one religious group.

“It’s a more fair and equitable distribution of public funds to ask, ‘Have you been a target?’ ” he said.

A group called Teach Florida, an association of Orthodox Jewish day schools, rabbis and community leaders, lobbied for the money. But Jewish day schools of any affiliation — Reform, Conservative or pluralistic — will be eligible to receive it.

“People who are out to cause problems just see the word ‘Jewish,’ ” said Mimi Jankovits, executive director of Teach Florida. “It’s an across-the-board issue.”

The state Department of Education will review the applications and distribute the money, a department spokeswoman said.

Scott last week met with leaders at the Roth Family Jewish Community Center of Greater Orlando to pledge his support in the wake of the anti-Semitic acts.

The Maitland campus — which houses the Jewish Community Center, the Jewish Academy of Orlando, a preschool, a day-care center and the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center — was evacuated after several bomb threats in January and has since beefed up security.

Chabad of South Orlando, which operates Orlando Jewish Day School in the Dr. Phillips neighborhood, also was evacuated for two consecutive days in January because of bomb threats.

An 18-year-old man with American and Israeli citizenship was arrested in Israel in March and charged in April with making threats to the Jewish Academy of Orlando, the Jewish Community Center, Chabad and other Jewish groups in the state.

Prosecutors allege that Michael Kadar called the Jewish Academy of Orlando on Jan. 4 and said there was a “C4 bomb” — a variety of plastic explosive — in the academy, and the people there did not “have a lot of time left,” according to the indictment.

There were 167 bomb threats to Jewish institutions in 38 states and three Canadian provinces from January 4 through March 21, according to the Anti-Defamation League. That includes 18 Jewish day schools.