Russian school year opens amid heightened security concerns


2 September 2004 The Russian academic year opened amid heightened security concerns this week as Islamist terrorists took over a school in North Ossetia. The terrorists holding of up to 400 hostages most of them children has highlighted the need that local schools have for proper security, said the director of ORTs Russian operations, Avi Ganon. The siege in North Ossetia does not affect ORT directly, Mr Ganon said. But it does affect the whole system of security in Russias educational institutions. The situation has scared people here and they are in panic. ORT schools used to have private security guards thanks to organisations supporting the institutions. However, budget cuts mean that we have lost those guards. Mr Ganon said that police officers had been stationed outside all schools, including ORTs, but added that their presence could not be relied upon in the long term. Israeli government budget cuts have also meant the loss of financial support for meals and transportation for ORT students in the CIS and Baltic States. Transport is closely related to the security issue, Mr Ganon said. Our schools are often located in town centres and many of our students have to travel in long distances from the suburbs. On Tuesday, a suicide bomber killed 10 people at a bus station in Moscow. In February, 39 people were killed when a bomb exploded in an underground station in Moscow. Some parents have driven their children into school this week because of the situation, but many of our students dont have access to a car. And work pressures mean that parents who do have cars cant continue to bring their children to school. The loss of subsidised meals, transport and security had already prompted some parents to reconsider sending their children to ORT schools not only because of the distances involved but also because of the longer days ORT students have in order to take Jewish studies and because of the ever present threat of anti-Semitic attacks. World ORT, in full cooperation with the Jewish Agency, is working to raise funds for meals, transportation and security at 15 ORT schools in the CIS and Baltic states. The total budget needed for this program is $427,000 per year. Thirteen years after returning to Russia following a 53-year exile from the country of its birth ORT has more than 27,000 students throughout the CIS and Baltic States.