While many public schools on the east side of Cleveland will begin the school year remotely, Jewish day schools will offer in-person instruction in the fall for the first time since mid-March.
While the Cuyahoga County Board of Health issued a July 30 recommendation that schools begin remotely and cancel extracurricular activities to stem the spread of COVID-19, day schools are moving forward with plans to reopen – after having pivoted to remote learning in the spring.
“The vast majority of nonpublic schools in Ohio, and I’m sure this is true in Northeast Ohio as well, do plan on opening, with obviously a virtual option for families that want that,” Rabbi Yitz Frank, executive director of Agudath Israel of Ohio and president of Ohio Council for American Private Education, told the Cleveland Jewish News on Aug. 11. “Generally speaking, the independent schools plan on fully reopening.”
Citing pedagogical considerations, small class sizes and relatively large classrooms, heads of schools said they believe they can protect their students and offer higher-quality instruction can be offered remotely. In addition, at least two day schools are offering remote learning options.
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland in Cleveland Heights and Beachwood, the state’s largest Jewish day school, will reopen in person, said Rabbi Simcha Dessler, educational director.
“When the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) strongly endorsed and cited the reopening of schools as a true investment in the education, well-being and future of children while taking precautions to protect staff and students, it was music to the ears of the academy’s parent body,” Dessler wrote in an Aug. 11 email to the CJN. “While a small percentage of families will choose to keep their children at home, Hebrew Academy parents overwhelmingly desire for their children to be educated in person, in school.”
Dessler said the reopening plan was reviewed by the school’s medical guidance and the Cuyahoga County Board of Health.
Hebrew Academy’s enrollment has gone up significantly in the past decade.
“While a small percentage of families will choose to pause their enrollment, we anticipate another year of a healthy enrollment,” Dessler wrote.
Hebrew Academy’s plan is to hold a staggered opening from Aug. 26 through Aug. 28.
“Our plans may change to reflect the evolving recommendations and best practices,” the plan states. In addition, the school will minimize transitions throughout the day and may use desk or Plexiglas dividers where necessary throughout the campuses to maintain social distance. Larger spaces will be limited for classroom use or staggered use of smaller groupings of students. Lunch will be served in the classroom or in staggered shifts.
Joseph and Florence Mandel Jewish Day School
Jay Leberman, the new head of school at the Joseph and Florence Mandel Jewish Day School in Beachwood, wrote parents following the county board’s recommendations about its plan to open in person.
“We have taken this time to ensure the effectiveness of our reopening plans and strategies with our Medical Advisory Committee as well as the CCBH,” he wrote in an Aug. 10 email to parents. “In addition, we have adopted the guidelines and advice published by Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and University Hospitals. We also made a decision to submit our plans in writing to the CCBH for review and comment. Upon completion of their review, the CCBH informed us that our plan was ‘solid’ and made a number of suggestions for even further improvement (which we are implementing).”
Leberman said the school will have small cohorts, increase outdoor time and play, and hold staggered start dates from Aug. 26 through Sept. 2.
In addition, the school will hold orientation appointments by cohort, or what Leberman has termed mispachah, for kindergarten through fifth grade before the start of school.
Leberman said enrollment of about 350 increased slightly from expectations in the spring.
Fuchs Mizrachi School
Rabbi Avery Joel, head of school at Fuchs Mizrachi School in Beachwood, said the school will open in person with an online option for those families who request it.
Fuchs Mizrachi students won’t take part in interscholastic sports, Joel told the Cleveland Jewish News, but the school will offer sports opportunities after school.
Joel wrote parents Aug. 6 following a Zoom call about the plan.
“In line with the statements of the American Academy of Pediatrics, we recognize how important it is for the emotional and psychological well-being of the children for them to be in school,” Joel wrote, referring to the staggered opening.
“By implementing this phase-in schedule, we can give our youngest students the attention that they need to orient them to the new routines for this year. We will also use this time to make sure that our health and safety protocols are implemented in the best ways possible.”
Online instruction will take place for some students prior to their return to campus. In addition, students will be allowed to move from in-school to online learning or vice versa, Joel wrote. Fuchs Mizrachi will have a staggered opening on Aug. 24, Aug. 26 and Aug. 31.
In an Aug. 11 email to the CJN, Joel acknowledged parents are anxious.
“For some people, the risks are enough to keep their children home,” he wrote.
“Other parents are concerned with the possibility of schools having to go remote later in the year, and therefore are making other arrangements that would ensure they have day care all year. At the same time, majority of the parents we have heard from recognize how important it is for their children to return to school, and appreciate the guidelines we are following.”
He said the pandemic has taken a toll on both in-person and total enrollment.
“We have seen the greatest impact among our youngest students,” he wrote.
Gross Schechter Day School
Randy Boroff, head of school at Gross Schechter Day School in Pepper Pike, said the school’s enrollment of about 250 students will allow the school to function with “appropriate social distancing.”
“We felt that we are in a position to be able to implement protocols that would maintain a safe and healthy environment for our students and teachers,” Boroff wrote the CJN in an Aug. 11 email.
“After consultation with numerous medical experts, we arrived at the decision to open Gross Schechter for in-person learning, along with an option for a virtual educational experience.”
Parents have, for the most part, been “very supportive” of the plan, he wrote.
“The Jewish Education Center of Cleveland and Jewish Federation of Cleveland in Beachwood have also been very helpful in our preparation for the start of school,” Boroff wrote. “We are approaching the school year with caution, yet maintaining a positive approach to welcoming children back to school.”
Enrollment, he said, has been “fairly stable” in the school’s middle and lower school, but has decreased in its early childhood program.
“We designed learning spaces that meet or exceed the standards set forth by the state and national health organizations, purchased additional supplies, more sanitizing equipment, and planned for outdoor learning spaces,” Boroff wrote in an email to parents about the plan.
The school will hold a staggered opening on Aug. 26, Aug. 31 and Sept. 2. Orientation will be held Aug. 24 and Aug. 25 for all students.
Chaviva High School
With 32 students, Chaviva High School in Cleveland Heights, will reopen in person as well.
“We are in constant contact with our medical and rabbinic advisors and will update and tweak the plan as needed,” Rochie Berkowitz, principal, wrote in an Aug. 10 email to the CJN. She said the school will open Aug. 31.
“We are in a unique position having a student body of 32 girls on a very large campus,” Berkowitz wrote, “which will allow us to maintain the standards of health and safety outlined in our plan.”