Experts weigh in on what to do so that US Jewish Day Schools can open safely in September, and what Israel’s schools can do now
By: Rabbi Elchanan Poupko
(This article was reprinted with the permission of Arutz Sheva)
According to the most optimistic voices in the medical community, a vaccine for coronavirus will be ready in 12-18 months. This means Jewish Day Schools need to brace for a new world and another hugely different school year. In addition to the logistical and educational challenges that come with life during a pandemic, communities will need to deal with the financial hardship afflicting our economy in ways we have not seen during our lifetime.
What can Jewish Day Schools do to remain attractive, affordable, and safe during these difficult times? Here are some ideas to think about now:
Safety. Safety. Safety- as we continue to discover new things about COVID-19 with every day that goes by, safety needs to be the first and foremost concern of schools. Now is the time for schools to strengthen their communication and relationship with private and public health experts to make sure they have both strong and adaptable plan in place once September comes. Every school should have an open line of communication with more than one infectious disease physician and public health expert.
Hybrid teaching systems- even if schools do open in September, there are likely to be many shifts back and forth between school and home. This could be due to a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall, due to radically changed work-home schedules parents will have with an evolving workplace and some students that will not be able to return to classrooms because they are immuno-compromised. Schools should prepare educational systems that can quickly fluctuate between classroom and cyberspace and account allow for smooth transitions between the two. Curriculums that accommodate these aspects of teaching should be prepared extensively, and schedules should be made accordingly.
Do not reward or penalize students based on attendance. Students should know they are free to learn from home just as much as they are free to learn in school. No one should be rewarded or penalized in either direction. Health must be the only consideration when a student considers coming to school or not.
Rethink busing– in a world infected by the coronavirus, buses are at risk of becoming disease centers. Schools and parents will need to rethink busing and transportation. This may mean making sure children go to a school closer to home, examining options for bikes, scooters, or walking, or having children driven to school individually. In cases where busing is needed, busses would need to be disinfected daily, and hand sanitizing would have to be mandated and installed inside the bus. With busing or without, masks and high standards of hand hygiene would need to be mandated and monitored. According to many, the public does not need to use gloves as that can increase the risk of contagion. In this case, schools should not mandate the use of gloves.
Vaccination Vigilance- with a real concern for a second—even bigger— wave of coronavirus coming in the winter and the fall, schools cannot compromise on vaccinations. Every child that walks into school must have updated vaccinations, and if allowed for children by health authorities, including the flu shot. Schools should work with physicians and public health experts to make sure this is done in the safest and most rigorous way possible.
Learn & Educate About Germ Transmission– students should be vigilant, responsible, and committed to the highest standards of safety. Schools should maintain a healthy balance between educating students to be vigilant and knowledgeable about the coronavirus, and keeping them from extreme germaphobia. We must keep students calm and fully aware of their statistical safety.
Implement Mask Breaks- wearing a mask all day can be challenging. In Israel, the heat made it impossible at this point. Ensure that students have comfortable masks and give them time and place to refresh and adjust their masks. Make it fun, creative, and child friendly.
Disinfecting & Hygiene Supply Chain- the coronavirus pandemic has been characterized by a lack of medical supplies and personal protection equipment. Schools thinking of reopening in September must work hard now to establish a reliable supply chain of disinfecting and sanitizing materials, as well as masks to the extent possible.
Visitor Restrictions- every person carries an added risk for infection. If someone does not have to be in the school building, they should not be allowed in. Students can be dropped off and picked up at the entrance in a safe and socially distant way.
Mass Fever Scanners- while the main danger of the coronavirus comes before carriers are even symptomatic, it is vital we minimize risks wherever we can. Good mass fever scanners can scan up to sixty people at a time and eliminate unnecessary problems. The entrances to schools must be equipped to detect fever. Anyone with a fever cannot be allowed into the building under any circumstance.
Strict cleaning protocols- janitorial staff should be prepared to disinfect school daily after school. Teachers should disinfect high-touch surfaces periodically throughout the day. Teachers should have their own personal whiteboard and smartboard markers.
Communication plan- schools should have updated, efficient, and instantaneous communication methods so that parents and students can get information in a fast and efficient way.
COVID Case Action Plan- What if someone in school got the coronavirus? Who knows about it? How soon? What actions will be taken? How will school balance privacy laws and public safety? All these questions need to be addressed before the first person sets foot in the building. Schools must have an organized and thought-out protocol.
Personal computers only-as schools focus on minimizing germ transfer and any kind of contagion; students who come to school should be using their own laptops, which they then can take home. If a school does not have power bars and accessible charging for the entire classroom already, now is the time to do that. No two students should be using the same computer together. Schools should be ready to support students with no appropriate devices and be efficient in pointing them in the right direction in case of technical difficulties, loss, or dysfunction. Any computer that must be used by anyone other than the original owner due to financial limitations, would have to be disinfected in between uses.
Science and hands-on experiments– if kids loved learning about science through hands-on experiments, this is the year to find ways to encourage discovery digitally. This can mean anything from going on NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, to digital visits in science labs. Hands-on experiments and labs should be minimized to the very bare required minimum while exploring more digital opportunities.
Rabbi Elchanan Poupko is a rabbi, writer, teacher, and blogger (www.rabbipoupko.com). He lives with his wife in New York City and is the president of EITAN – The American-Israeli Jewish Network