Community revisits safety systems in wake of Parkland shootings

Community revisits safety systems in wake of Parkland shootings

Federation’s security officer in ‘continuous contact’ with area schools

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

As the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., was unfolding, Steven Karp, executive director of the Jewish Educational Center (JEC) in Elizabeth, called security expert Robert Wilson. “Part of the concept over here is: I’m no expert in security, but he is,” said Karp. 

Wilson, who serves as chief security officer for
Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, reassured him that no changes needed to be made to the security operations at the JEC network of day schools. Karp said he was grateful for the reassurance. 

“When a parent calls 25 minutes later, and asks, ‘What measures are you taking?’ I don’t want to say, ‘We’re doing the best we can,’” said Karp. “I want to say, ‘I spoke with experts.’”

Schools and synagogues throughout the area responded to queries from NJJN that they are “constantly” reviewing safety policies, as well as seeking guidance and taking advice from professional security teams, outside consultants, and local police departments; most, however, declined to provide details. 

“We’re leery about disclosing publicly what we are doing,” said Daniel Israeli, chief financial and operating officer at Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School. The Livingston day school received a $75,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security earlier this academic year, which will be allocated “as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible, under the guidance of the Livingston Police Department and Global Mark Security,” Israeli said, referring to the private security company the school has a contract with. 

“There will be upgrades” to the school’s security system, said Gary Berger, Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School assistant principal, in an email, “but I would never want to publicize them. One of the most significant tragedies of the Florida shooting was that the suspect knew all of the inner workings [of the school] and planned his killings accordingly.” 

At Golda Och Academy in West Orange, head of school Adam Shapiro emphasized the school’s vigilance. “We have spent time reviewing policies and procedures both with students and faculty over the past week to ensure that any new questions that may have arisen can be answered,” he said. 

At Gottesman RTW Academy, the Jewish community day school in Randolph, director of institutional advancement Naomi Bacharach told NJJN, “We are laser-focused on ensuring the safety of our students.” This year alone, she said, “we have made significant upgrades and changes to our policies and procedures, systems, and staff education,” but she also declined to address specific measures.

Wilson, federation’s chief security officer, confirmed that he was in “continuous contact” with all four area day schools. “All of these facilities have security response protocols that they train on to react to violent incidents,” he said, adding that many of the synagogues with early childhood centers are also collaborating with him.

Karp underscored the many changes in security that day schools have undergone since he came to JEC 17 years ago. “When I started, no one had armed security guards,” he said. “Now, nobody doesn’t have them. So we’re always upgrading.” He also said he is “pricing out” metal detector wands.

New Jersey mandates that all schools hold regular fire and lockdown drills. Beyond security measures already in place, Wilson shared a suggestion for everyone: notifying leaders when a relationship goes awry and one person in the relationship threatens the other.  

In a letter to community leaders, Wilson noted a common thread between the April 2017 school shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., that killed one child and two adults (not the mass shooting two years earlier), and the tragedy in a Sutherland Springs, Texas, church that killed 26 people: The shooters, he said, “made precipitating threats” that were never communicated to the school or church.

“A threat against a member of our community that is shared with our leaders enables those leaders to take action to protect their flock,” Wilson wrote. “When we are made aware of a threat against an individual, we can work in partnership with our fellow community members to vigilantly protect all.”

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