Even with assistance for parents, fiscal challenges hover above potential openings this fall.
Laurence Kutler, head of school at the Tucson Hebrew Academy in Arizona, estimates that reopening his school in early August with all the necessary health guidelines in place will cost a minimum of $40,000, including hiring an additional employee to help with sanitizing the school between classes.
That dollar amount, however, does not include the purchase earlier this year of Chromebooks for students who didn’t have access to one at home. Funds for those computers came from a private donor. The kindergarten through eighth-grade school is attended by 122 students.
“We have 38 pages of protocols from the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and the governor’s office, including hygiene-sanitizing equipment, social distancing in classrooms and teacher-student ratios,” said Kutler, adding that they are saving some funds by bundling their supplies with the local Jewish community center and Jewish federation to keep costs on masks, gloves and hand sanitizer down.
Said Malkus, “When we were thinking about our emergency fund, we looked back to see what was needed in the great recession of 2008-09, and historically, how many people left the school. We are trying to address that as best we can. My hope would be that the Jewish day-school field and schools individually are working to address that this time around in ways we didn’t the first time.
“At the end of the day, unfortunately, everyone has limited resources, and there is only so much fundraising that can be done and the impact is pretty significant,” added Malkus.
Incorporating scenarios for social distancing, eating, recess
With so much uncertainty regarding COVID-19—and concerns of a second or third wave of the coronavirus expected come winter—nearly every school JNS spoke with is preparing various scenarios for running the 2020-21 academic year. Saying anything is certain remains … uncertain.
“We have a variety of scenarios planned,” said Wendy Leberman, director of admission and marketing at the Jewish Day School in Bellevue, Wash., the city now known for the overwhelming large number of elderly who died in nursing homes. “We have large campus and small classes, so if we are limited to 10 kids a classroom, we’ve looked at how we can do that. We’ve also looked at how we can go back at a 100 percent [normal], and how we can do remote learning in the fall and a hybrid of the two.”
Leberman said one idea is how to have teachers educate multiple classes without risking exposure from different rooms. One solution: having an educator remain in one room to teach a class live, to be broadcasted virtually to students in other classrooms.
Some schools, particularly those with large campuses or in suburban areas, are talking about taking lessons outside, at least on good weather days, with virtual classes during cold or inclement weather. Other institutions are anticipating having a group of students in class some days, with others working virtually, and then switching either weekly or every other day. (Israel began a similar policy upon first opening its schools.) Most school concede that class sizes will be kept to a minimum per state guidelines to allow ample distancing between children.
Lunch and recess are also being reimagined. Many schools said they will focus on eating in classrooms. Some added that children and teachers will be responsible for wiping down desktops before and afterwards. Because class sizes will be significant smaller—the current best estimate is 10 to 12 students per classroom—with one teacher and perhaps an aide, adults will be better able to watch that students don’t share meals or snacks.
Recess will likely be staggered so that classes aren’t mixing on the playground or ball fields. Educators will also be looking at how camps running this summer handle their sports and free time for ideas for games and athletic activities that can be done with little contact.
Also, the school day may be shortened in some areas to allow for staggered shifts and more cleaning times, which would affect recess.
Whatever it looks like, 2020 will be like 2008—a “pivot point” for Jewish education, suggested Bernstein. “The question is: How do we pivot to have good things happen? And if that means there will be some consolidation among schools in a particular area, that’s a real possibility.
“We aren’t just talking about schools closing, but of schools coming together and making something that is stronger than their individual parts,” he continued. “ … There are even opportunities between schools to share the virtual platform, which can be cost-saving. There are lots of creative ideas ahead.”