Education

Gov. Scott wants to give Jewish schools $1 million for security. Other groups ask: Why not us?

Speaking at Katz Hillel Day School of Boca Raton, Gov. Rick Scott announces a proposal to spend $1 million on security at Jewish schools.
Speaking at Katz Hillel Day School of Boca Raton, Gov. Rick Scott announces a proposal to spend $1 million on security at Jewish schools.

Gov. Rick Scott wants to set aside $1 million for security at Jewish schools following a wave of threats against Jewish institutions in Florida and across the country.

Scott announced the proposal, which is part of his recommended 2018-19 state budget, on Monday at Katz Hillel Day School of Boca Raton. The funds would help Florida’s Jewish day schools pay for video cameras, bulletproof glass, alarm systems and other safety equipment to protect thousands of students, the governor’s office said in a statement.

“Every Florida student deserves to have the opportunity to learn in a safe and comfortable setting,” Scott said. “After Florida’s Jewish community received hateful threats last year, we saw the need to provide additional security so the children that attend Jewish Day Schools can learn without having to worry about feeling threatened.”

Every Florida student deserves to have the opportunity to learn in a safe and comfortable setting.

Gov. Rick Scott

But while critics agree that security should be bolstered at Jewish schools, they want to know why the state isn’t also making funding available to institutions affiliated with other threatened religious groups.

“We are so happy that an affected community such as the Jewish community is receiving that needed help,” said Wilfredo Ruiz, the communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Florida. “However, we question the capacity of our governor to offer protection to all his citizens when he only caters exclusively to the Jewish community.”

Ruiz said CAIR Florida has received numerous reports of threats and vandalism targeting Islamic centers and schools in recent years. Two Florida mosques — one in Fort Pierce and one in Tampa — were targeted in arson attacks within six months of each other in late 2016 and early 2017.

I’m upset because the governor ignored the high incidence of hate crimes and hate incidents in Florida and he chose to ignore the Muslim population.

Wilfredo Ruiz, communications director for CAIR Florida

“I’m upset because the governor ignored the high incidence of hate crimes and hate incidents in Florida and he chose to ignore the Muslim population,” Ruiz said. CAIR has reached out to state legislators and hopes to draft a proposal that would make security funds available to any threatened institution, regardless of religious affiliation, Ruiz said.

The ACLU of Florida echoed CAIR’s concerns and said the budget proposal brought up constitutional questions.

“The governor needs to be concerned about the safety of school children from all communities,” Executive Director Howard Simon said in an email. “In addition to the reasonable concern about the safety of all Florida children, government funding that is directed to one religious group over others raises constitutional concerns regarding the separation of church and state.”

This is not the first time the ACLU and CAIR have objected to earmarking funds for the protection of one religious group. The organizations raised similar concerns earlier this year when state legislators set aside $654,000 in the 2017-18 budget for security upgrades at Jewish schools.

Despite the objections, Scott approved the line-item when he signed this year’s budget. The governor’s proposed funding for the 2018-19 budget would increase the amount of money available for security at Jewish schools by close to $350,000. “While last year’s investment will make a huge difference, we must continue to do more,” Scott said in a statement.

The push for increased security comes after Florida saw a sharp increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents in 2016 and the first quarter of 2017, a trend that was mirrored nationwide. Some of the incidents, including a February bomb threat at David Posnack Jewish Day School in Davie, targeted schools.

Scott’s office did not directly respond to questions about whether the governor plans to make state funding available for security at institutions affiliated with other religious groups.

“The governor thinks that every child in Florida should be able to learn in a safe environment,” said Lauren Schenone, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office. “The governor will roll out his full budget soon.”

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