School security, already heightened, increased after attacks and LAUSD hoax

Shalhevet was open but some students stayed home anyway on the day city schools closed.


BP Photo by Katia Surpin

WATCHFUL: Manny Fernandez, Director of Security, monitoring cameras from the gate-control booth in the driveway. Below, the front gate of the school extends to driveway roof and cannot be climbed.

By Elon Glouberman, Outside News Editor

Random vehicle checks in carpool lanes, newly installed equipment in classrooms and an almost-missed day of school all resulted from increased terrorism fears this past month after devastating attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.

While Head of School Rabbi Ari Segal has sent numerous emails trying to assure families that the school is safe, Shalhevet has tightened its security, taking extra precautions so the school does not become a victim of attacks, and also to calm fears.  This was especially true Dec. 15, when public schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District  closed for the day because of an emailed bomb threat. Occurring two weeks after 14 people were killed by at the Inland Empire Regional Center in San Bernardino and a month after coordinated terror attacks around Paris, many thought that maybe Jewish schools should be closed too. 

Rabbi Segal spoke with security officials who said private schools were safe, and Shalhevet stayed open.  He also said that the school hired extra security and continued to stay in touch with local law enforcement. 

Director of Security Mr. Manny Fernandez said other security enhancements were made that day as well.

“There’s obviously one more level up that you go in a situation like that,” said Mr. Fernandez in an interview with the Boiling Point. “You might change some policies around, you might change some daily operational stuff that you do on a daily basis.”

Rabbi Segal called staff and families on the school’s emergency phone line that morning around 8:30 a.m. hoping to allay fears. 

“At this point, people’s responses are to their [LAUSD’s] closing down, rather than to the intelligence we are receiving,” Rabbi Segal said in the phone call. “We’ve been in touch with local law enforcement, counter-terrorism units, the FBI, local LAPD, and have no reason to believe we need to close today.”

But he also stood at carpool line, chatted with parents and personally inspected people’s trunks.  

All this reassurance did not resonate for some, as around 10 students stayed home at their parents’ insistence, according to Mrs. Muriel Ohana, Rabbi Segal’s assistant.

“My mom didn’t let me go to school because she was nervous and all the other schools had closed for the day,” said senior Rachel Sentchuk. “I didn’t really agree because I trust Manny and the Security staff, but it ended up being a good thing because I got a lot of homework done that day.” 

While Shalhevet was open, other Jewish high schools in and around the Los Angeles area had varied responses. YULA, Hillel, Maimonedes and Yavneh cancelled classes, while Valley Torah, Harkham Gaon Academy, Pressman and Milken remained open, also hiring extra security.

When it was over, officials tried to keep people’s guard up.

“Let’s stay vigilant – if you see anyone or anything that is out of the ordinary, please let us know,” Mr. Fernandez wrote in an email sent out to the Shalhevet community mid-December. 

“This could range from someone taking pictures of the outside of the school, someone coming on campus looking lost or acting strange, a strange package left somewhere unattended or someone in a vehicle that doesn’t seem right.” 

Security in the new building is much better than in the one-story former hospital that Shalhevet occupied from 1999 to 2014.  For example, the front gate seems impossible to break into as it extends upward into the building, providing no space to climb over it. The old entrance was much shorter, open on top and more susceptible to breach. 

Along the back boundary, a new concrete wall behind the parking lot, now augmented with a chain-link fence spanning the top, has replaced an easily climbable chain-link fence that was there before.

Meanwhile, personal emergency preparedness has taken a back seat to equipment and staffing so far.  There have been two fire drills but no earthquake or lockdown drills in the new building.  Mr. Fernandez said they are planned for next semester. 

“We’re still in the process of putting that together,” he said.

Junior Ezra Fax thinks lockdown drills are unnecessary because Mr. Fernandez and his assistant, Mr. Walter Morales, can handle whatever comes up. 

“Manny and Walter are constantly on guard and armed and all they want is to keep us safe,” Ezra said, “Lockdown drills would be nice but not necessary. Our school is completely gated and have taken protective measures and other things like that.”

Micha Thau, also a Junior, agrees but says that it wouldn’t hurt for there to be drills. 

“As a Shalhevet student, I do feel safe in my school but there is room for improvement,” Micha said. “We can never be too careful. As long as there is not constant interference with class time, drills that extend beyond just fire drills could be beneficial for the school as a whole.”

Mr. Fernandez said equipment for lockdowns is already in place in most of the classrooms. This includes shades for the windows so those inside can’t be seen from the hallway and special doorstoppers to prevent intruders from breaking in. They are installed in all second-floor classrooms and third-floor classrooms that have doors opening inwards. But third-floor rooms like the Beit Midrash, Beit Knesset, Art Room, and Music Room do not have the equipment installed because their doors open outwards, where the door stoppers would serve no logical purpose.

 “If someone gets through the building, you can’t see what’s inside the room,” Mrs. Einalhori said of the shades. “Everybody is supposed to get the edges and go against the walls, so what ever this person who is attacking is trying to do, he can’t get to people.”

In addition, in case of any kind of emergency, Facilities Director Mrs. Lili Einalhori says Shalhevet has emergency supplies stored in the basement. 

“We have food and all the other things that you need, enough for three days,” Mrs. Einalhori said. “We have portable toilets there, and the supply of food is for all the people in the school including the teachers and faculty.”  

According to Mr. Fernandez, the supplies are in an unlocked room in the basement, but he hopes to move everything to an outdoor canister in the parking lot within the next 30 days. Only security personnel, some administrators and emergency officials will have access, he said.

Mrs. Einalhori also said that she and Yossi Frankel, Director of Academic Technology, are CPR certified. Mr. Frankel was also previously a certified paramedic for 14 years.

As for the additional security staff members, Manny declined to say whether they would be temporary or permanent. 

Mr. Fernandez declined to say how many cameras are placed around school but said they were constantly monitored.  When asked if he carries a gun, he said that there are armed guards on campus at all times, but did not specify who they are.  

He said the building is under heavy surveillance and security every day of the week during all hours. This includes when Ikar is renting out the building and when school is not in session. 

But the main thing Manny expressed was how important it is for students to say something if they see anything suspicious. 

“It could be anything, and everything,” Mr. Fernandez said. “The Jewish religion itself has had many threats and has had them since the beginning of time. We aren’t looking at anything specific. It’s just anything that looks odd or out of place. 

 “On a daily basis what we have to do is secure the campus, students, and staff,” he said. 

Specifically, Manny explained that they have been doing random checks on cars coming into Shalhevet. They have not been looking for anything in particular, only for certain things that may look dangerous or weapon-like. 

“We aren’t looking at anything specific, it’s just anything that looks odd or out of place,” Manny explained. “I don’t want to say it’s this specific person or this specific thing because you never know. And that’s just the way it works. You never know.”