A checklist for reopening our Jewish day schools

Over the past several months there have been a variety of Jewish Day School “scenario” planning efforts in preparation for their eventual reopening. Many of these planning efforts are anchored in CDC guidelines as the primary source for health and safety guidelines.

Although  there are no one-size-fits-all guidelines, protocols or policies, there are many agreed upon  requirements upon which there is a growing consensus.

Several weeks ago a colleague asked several of us in our leadership circle if we thought a brief checklist or “inventory of guidelines” (relating to school reopening) would be helpful to Jewish day school principals, heads of school and administrators as they plan their respective “bricks and mortar” reopening of their institutions. All agreed that it would be of great value and that if anyone required a more in-depth description or analysis, they should research it on their own.

What follows is an attempt at such a “checklist.”  It is by no means an extensive or comprehensive checklist. To be sure, the readership of this post should feel free to add to it, modify it and/or use it in any way they wish. The checklist is not presented in order of priority or importance. It represents a compendium of suggestions and recommendations embedded in many ongoing Jewish day school/yeshiva reopening planning efforts.

Health and Safety

  • Schools should have a student, teacher, and parent “Handbook” or a specific series of documents detailing COVID-19 guidelines, policies and protocols. All teachers and parents should be required to read and sign the document, attesting to their understanding and acceptance of the requirements;
  • Schools should have a COVID-19 Health and Safety Policy Committee comprised of physicians and pediatric infectious disease specialist who can advise the school administration regarding the effective implementation of CDC guidelines and best practice protocols. This includes compliance with the wearing of face masks as well as social distancing in common areas, classrooms, during recess and lunch;
  • Hand-held electronic temperature checks should be taken every morning upon student arrival;
  • Bathrooms and public washing stations should be continuously disinfected throughout the day;
  • Students should not be permitted to share snacks, drinks or food at any time while they are on school campus;
  • If a student is absent for one day, the parent must inform the school regarding the reason for the absence;
  • The school requires a policy regarding families who travel out of town;
  • The school requires a policy regarding a student, teacher or staff who test positive for the COVID-19 virus
  • Parents, guest visitors and practitioners (other than teachers and administration) should not be permitted campus unless they inform the administration ahead of time, and are granted permission to do so;
  • If a student is not feeling well during school hours (i.e. sore throat or fever), the school must call the parent immediately and have the parent pick up the child. The child in turn will need to wait for the parent in a designated isolation”waiting room”;
  • All high-touch surfaces in the playground should be continuously disinfected throughout the day. The Health and Safety Committee should determine which toys and/or high touch objects and physical ed. equipment are acceptable for children to handle;
  • All water fountains should have specially designed spouts in order to minimize contact when filling personal water bottles;
  • A supply of fresh water bottles are to be in stock in the school at all times;
  • All parents must sign waivers  holding the school harmless for COVID-19 virus transmission;
  • Teachers and staff must sign waivers holding the school harmless should they contract COVID-19 disease from campus exposure;
  • The school must have a continuous supply and inventory  of face masks, disinfectant solutions, hand sanitizers and other PPE and  first aid supplies;
  • All classrooms and hallways must be well ventilated with fresh air through specially designed filters;
  • Parents must be vigilant regarding any changes in a student’s physical health and must report those changes to the school administration;
  • Bathrooms must have full liquid soap dispensers and disinfectant liquid or spray at all times;
  • Upon arrival to school, all students and faculty must go straight to a supervised washing station in order to was their hands;

Social and Emotional Concerns:

  • Teachers and administrators should keep a keen eye on students for any behaviors or moods which are out of the ordinary. This includes expressions of sadness, hyperactivity, aggression, lethargy and excessive fidgeting;
  • The school must ensure that psychologists, counselors and social workers be on call in the event consultation or intervention (through the parent) is warranted;
  • Parents must inform the school immediately should they observe or experience any dramatic change in their child’s behavior, mood or demeanor.

Communications:

  • The school should create a COVID-19 Webpage. This Webpage will serve as a 24 hour platform for communicating to parents information relating to special announcements, scheduling changes, protocols, health updates and special school events;
  • Parents should receive weekly reports and updates from the Administration regarding ways in which the school is maintaining a healthy and safe school environment for their children;
  • The school should sponsor bi-monthly Town Hall meetings with parents in order to provide parents with a platform for ongoing dialogue and communication;

Academics:

  • The school should maintain class schedules and course offerings as close as  possible to those during the course of the regular academic year. To this end, all grade-level curricular goals, objectives and assessments should be normative and should continue to be and integral part of the school’s ongoing educational program;
  • All faculty should be offered Professional Development opportunities, reflecting the challenges they will now be encountering. Topics for Professional Development may  include the successful use and integration of educational technology and virtual/remote teaching platforms; differentiated instruction; remediation groupings; and, monitoring the health and safety of children in their classroom; and assessment;
  • The provision of extensive and intensive student remediation services via tutoring and special academic programming will need to be explored in light of the last almost four months of instruction where weak students were at a significant disadvantage;
  • Heads of School and Principals must provide teachers and staff with ongoing support, feedback and guidance – especially in light of their current condition. They will require desperately needed guidance and support from both a personal professional perspective;
  • Ongoing faculty and staff  meetings should focus on topics relating to best practices, collaboration, team building and student case-conferencing;
  • In order to minimize the potential spread of the virus, it is strongly suggested  that students remain in the same classroom throughout the day (in “pods” or in ” bubbles”); and, only require teachers to move from class to class as needed

Endnote:

This “checklist” is presented in the spirit of partnership and sharing. It is  by no means definitive or intended to be the end-all for the effective reopening of our schools during this daunting pandemic. Again, represent  summary of guidelines, protocols and standards resulting from the planning efforts of many Jewish Day Schools and Yeshivot.

Let us hope and pray that the more our schools share their practices, the safer and more effective our schools will become during this time of uncertainty.

About the Author
Dr. Chaim Botwinick is currently Principal of the Hebrew Academy Community Day School in Margate FL and Executive Coach and Consultant. He served as president and CEO of the central agency for Jewish education in Baltimore and in Miami. He has published and lectured extensively on topics relating to education, strategic planing and leadership development. Dr. Botwinick is Author of “Think Excellence: Harnessing Your Power to Succeed Beyond Greatness”, Brown Books, 2011
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