Barrack Stabbing Incident Underscores Security Challenges at Jewish Schools

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Jewish schools and organizations must provide effective security, but there's more than just the monetary costs at stake.

Students and parents at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy learned on a Wednesday in November that a bag of ammunition had been found on campus.
 
The leaders of the school evacuated the building, dismissed students for the day and worked with the local police department to secure a security officer for the rest of the week. But it turned out to be innocuous: an organization had used the building for an event and a photographer had accidentally left the bag of ammunition.
 
The head of school informed parents that staff members had already been planning to attend a security conference for religious schools sponsored by Radnor Township, the Radnor Police Department and Homeland Security. 
 
Now, on Monday, five months later, a former kitchen employee at Barrack entered the building through a side entrance — because someone let him in — and stabbed a current employee in the kitchen. 
 
The attack, according to school officials and police, appeared to be a personal dispute. There was nothing about it that had anything to do with the fact that Barrack is a school or that it is a Jewish institution, they said. 
 
The incidents at Barrack may have put the pluralistic day school in Bryn Mawr in the spotlight in recent months, but they also underscore the challenges surrounding all Jewish day schools — and even other Jewish institutions —  when it comes to ensuring a secure environment.
 
For several years, as violent acts have continued to occur at religious sites and schools, local Jewish day schools have worked to invest more resources to improve their security. But as the incident at Barrack showed, it is not as simple as just hiring a security guard and locking the doors.
 
“All schools run the risk of an attack by a mentally disturbed person, disgruntled employee or angry student,” wrote Joshua Gleis, a security analyst, in the Jewish Daily Forward in 2013. “Yet Jewish schools also run the risk of attack by those who specifically want to target Jews because they are Jews.”
 
The Barrack incident on Monday involved Ivan Moore, 32, a former employee of the food service provider at Barrack, who was able to enter the building because a technology services provider recognized him and let Moore in without a security badge, according to the Sharon Levin, the head of school. He then went downstairs to the kitchen and stabbed Sherman Brunson, a kitchen employee, several times in the head and neck, the authorities said. He was taken to the hospital and is recovering.
 
Moore was arrested after fleeing and is facing nine charges in the incident, according to the Radnor Police Department. 
 
The technology worker employed by an outside contractor will also no longer work at the school and will be reassigned, Barrack officials said. 
 
Before the attack this week, Barrack officials had already hired outside groups to conduct assessments of the school’s security but have also now contracted with a private security firm to add “a level of security in addition to the current staff on campus,” said Alex Stroker, Barrack’s chief of operations.
 
School officials, who had been considering hiring a firm since November, will examine a variety of options “in terms of security personnel, as well as equipment that may or may not be necessary,” he said.
 
Stroker declined to go into specifics about current security measures or what changes they planned to make, but they had already conducted additional staff training after the incident in November. In response to the incident Monday, he acknowledged that the school’s security ultimately comes down to the staff.
 
“From my perspective, this may not be a very popular view, security begins and ends with total cooperation from all parties involved in the school as well as ongoing vigilance about what happens in and around campus,” said Stroker.
 
Barrack has been in the news recently, but other local Jewish day schools have also devoted extra resources to security in the last year. 
 
The board of Abrams Hebrew Academy in Yardley had for several years been considering hiring a security guard who would carry a gun on campus, but as recently as last year, “everyone was opposed to it,” said the school’s board president, Brandon Schwartz. 
 
But the January attacks in Paris on the office of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine, and a kosher grocery store proved a tipping point, Abrams’ leaders said. The majority of the board voted in favor of hiring armed security, and in March, the school started using off-duty officers from the Yardley Police Department to guard the school.
 
The past resistance, Schwartz said, had been largely philosophical. 
 
“Some people do not believe in having guns in school, and I can understand it,” said Rabbi Ira Budow, Abrams’ director. He said he understands the questions: “Are we going overboard? Are we going to traumatize our children? It’s not a simple thing.”
 
After the Paris attacks, Abrams parents started fund­raising for efforts to increase security at the school, Budow said.
 
Schwartz said he voted against hiring the guard last year, but this year supported the proposal. 
 
“We definitely felt like there was a changing dynamic,” said Schwartz, who has three children at the preschool through eighth-grade school. “Whether it was anecdotal evidence or not, there had been some anti-Semitic events that we didn’t want to ignore.”
 
Other local schools have also increased the amount of money they spent on security.
 
Perelman Jewish Day School’s two campuses in Wynnewood and Melrose Park already had campus security guards before this school year, but recently the school invested in additional hardware, including new cameras and perimeter lighting on its campuses, according to head of school Judy Groner. 
 
The elementary school also earlier this month applied for a $75,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security. Other area day schools, including Kohelet Yeshiva High School, have received Homeland Security grants as well.
 
Groner said she hears from stakeholders in the school who have different ideas — and comfort levels — about what to do about security. She recently attended a conference on crisis management with leaders of other independent schools in Pennsylvania and regularly confers with staff at other Jewish day schools about security issues. 
 
She has visited campuses with various levels of security and said the differences have to do with “whether the campus is fenced; the number of exits and entries; and the type of guard a campus has. All of those things are topics of discussion.”
 
Despite the spate of bad news at Barrack — a basketball coach was fired earlier this month because of past arrests — Levin said she heard an “extremely positive” response from parents about its handling of the stabbing incident.
 
“This was an absolutely isolated incident,” Levin said.
 
Ruth Joffe, a parent of one current Barrack junior and two alumni, said she thought the school properly responded to the attack.
 
She doesn’t think the offense of letting the suspect in the building “is very egregious,” but dismissing the person who allowed it to happen “was a fairly strong action and demonstrates how seriously they took it.”
 
Though at least one parent privately expressed concern about security, Jared Gordon, a parent of three students at Barrack, said he did not see a larger problem in the way Barrack conducts security.
 
“Each of these incidents is so unique,” said Gordon. “Is it bad luck? Yeah, toss it up to bad luck.” 
 

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