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Leadership Matters: Why doesn’t my school have an armed guard?

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Dear Erica,

I am very frustrated with the leadership of my children’s preschool. After the Newtown killings, I went straight to the head of the school and asked why we can’t have an armed guard outside the building. The school did send out an email to the entire school community to discuss current security policies. If it’s a matter of the cost, then I told the head of school I would personally raise money for it. I think parents are outraged that our children are not as protected as they could be, but I cannot get her to budge.

How can any school today — especially a Jewish school — not be as careful as possible when it comes to the security of our children?

Scared and Sad

Dear Scared,

We are all still reeling from the impact of Newtown, and because it is so painful, it is easy to make rash decisions. Security in the wake of any tragedy can make us all skittish but also confused. I personally resent taking off my shoes every time I go through airport security because of one shoe bomber in 2001. It is hard to imagine that when people want to hurt us, they cannot find new ways to elude security.

If your head of school is keeping parents informed and aware of all security measures and an emergency lockdown plan is in place and practiced, you should be as prepared as any institution. Although Newtown is a very painful event, it is also rare. We have to remember that. Armed guards are expensive, and it is easy enough to say you will raise the money now, but sustaining that level of security years into the future is very costly; that money may be better spent elsewhere on something of educational value. One school head responded to angry parents that if they really want to be careful about their children’s safety, they should stop texting while driving.

In addition, there is the visual image that gets implicitly communicated with very tight security. Imagine being a child who walks by a guard every day with a gun in order to begin a day of learning. There are high costs associated with security, and they are not only about dollars and sense. They are about heart and mind. Let’s make sure that security goes hand in hand with being a welcoming, loving community.

Dr. Erica Brown is the scholar in residence at The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. Her new book is “Return: Daily Inspiration for the Days of Awe” (OU/Koren). Are you a Jewish organizational or synagogue leader wrestling with a tough issue? Send your question to LeadershipMatters@jta.org.

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