Florida Governor Rick Scott.
(photo credit: JOSHUA ROBERTS / REUTERS)
(TNS) - The Florida state budget next year should include $1 million to help cover the cost of security at Jewish schools, Gov. Rick Scott said on Monday.
A wave of antisemitic threats in the last year prompted his decision to push for the money, Scott said during his announcement at the Katz Hillel Day School of Boca Raton. Recent incidents have included bomb threats and swastikas in predominately Jewish neighborhoods.
“I know many Floridians have been horrified by the threats against our Jewish schools and communities,” he said. “We have absolutely zero tolerance for these hateful and antisemitic acts.”
Florida first authorized public money for Jewish school security this year, starting with a $654,000-plus pool for schools in nine counties.
Scott’s proposal would expand eligibility for all Jewish day schools in the state to cover bulletproof glass, fencing, video cameras and other measures.
It will be up to the Florida Legislature to decide whether to move forward with it.
The proposal has drawn some criticism for not including funding for other groups targeted by threats and violence. The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida said it also raises concerns about separation of church and state.
Major advocacy organizations for Jewish and Muslim communities have both reported an increasing number of hate incidents or crimes that accelerated after President Donald Trump was elected. Trump has been criticized for downplaying racism and antisemitism.
The number of antisemitic incidents documented by the Anti-Defamation League spiked by 86 percent in the first three months of this year compared to the same time period last year.
Likewise, the number of hate crimes against Muslims grew by 91 percent in the first half of 2017 compared to the first half of 2016, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The Florida Muslim community has endured in recent years bomb threats, vandalism, mosque burnings and other problems.
Wilfredo Ruiz, spokesperson for the council’s Florida chapter, said he will lobby during the next legislative session to expand eligibility for security funding to other groups.
“It is not a matter of taking it from the Jewish, or adding the Muslims,” he said. “It is that the state cannot just pick a community that is not exclusively getting threats.”
Officials at the Katz Hillel Day School of Boca Raton began boosting security a couple years ago by adding cameras, improving fences, installing high-tech locking mechanisms on some doors and hiring an armed guard to walk the campus.
The school plans to add more high-tech locks, panic buttons and other safety measures with help from state funding.
Adam Englander, who heads the school, said the changes were prompted by news of school shootings.
“It’s something we need to put a real premium on and it’s sad because we’re a school and we want our funding to go toward better education,” Englander said. “That’s something we just spend more time on in the last couple years than we’ve ever had to.”
Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) / Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.