By Sharon Wisch-Ray
This is a developing story
As the pandemic surges across the country with Texas as a hot spot, the question of the day is “What is happening with school?” North Texas’ five Jewish schools — Akiba Yavneh Academy, Ann and Nate Levine Academy, Mesorah High School for Girls, Texas Torah Institute and Torah Day School — are no different as administrators, educators and the schools’ boards of directors try to make the best decision for their students and faculties amid a rapidly changing backdrop of the virus and local and state orders.
For example on Thursday, July 16, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins ordered all Dallas County schools to begin their school years with distance learning until after Labor Day. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s July 17 guidance letter advised that local and county health orders barring in-person instruction until after Labor Day do not apply to private parochial schools.
Here is the latest information:
Akiba Yavneh Academy
Akiba Yavneh Academy (AYA), which serves children from infants through 12th grade, advised its school community Wednesday, July 22 of its most current plans.
AYA Head of School Rabbi Yaakov Green wrote, “To be clear, at this time we intend to open on Aug. 19. We are working to determine what that opening will look like at each division. We committed to you that we will remain nimble and therefore we crafted and presented three strong plans that prioritize the social-emotional well-being, health, and safety of our students and faculty.”
AYA’s Early Childhood Program is also a licensed child care provider through the State of Texas and plans to open for on-campus school Aug. 20.
“It is our hope that many more grade levels, in fact all our grade levels, will be legally and medically permitted to begin the school year on campus. What our medical advisors are telling us right now is that it is simply too early, and therefore both hasty and unwise, to make a commitment to what school will look like to start the school year for our older divisions. With weeks more data and trends ahead of us, we are being advised to remain open and prepared to pivot to each of our plans so that as we get closer to the start of school, a medically sound choice will be made,” wrote Green.
Ann and Nate Levine Academy
Levine Academy announced Friday, July 24, in an email to its parents from Head of School Tom Elieff that the school would begin the year with distance learning Aug. 17 for kindergarten through eighth grade. The school’s early childhood program, which is a licensed child care provider, will open with in-person classes Aug. 17.
A possibility exists that if feasible, the school might begin in-person learning for elementary grades earlier than Sept. 8. The school plans to begin on-campus classes on Sept. 8, assuming the State of Texas allows in-person learning. Families will also have the option to choose virtual learning for their children starting Sept. 8.
Levine Academy’s distance learning and COVID-19 plans are available on the school’s webpage at www.levineacademy.org.
Mesorah High School for Girls
Mesorah High School for Girls is hoping that when school starts Aug. 26, it will be in person, but it has not made a firm decision according to the school’s headmaster.
“We hope to start in person, but that decision will have to wait until closer to the 26th, weighing all of the factors at that time,” Rabbi Avraham Zev Kosowsky told the TJP Tuesday.
Rabbi Kosowsky said that based on how the school performed in the spring, having to close abruptly, Mesorah will be ready to meet the needs of its students whether online or in-person.
“I was impressed with how quickly both teachers and students were able to transition and adapt. The teachers’ ability to prepare and still be available to their students outside of class while in many cases balancing having their own families at home exceeded expectations. In fact we have teachers who volunteered and are providing activities and classes nightly for students via Zoom throughout the summer to create opportunity for social interaction,” he said.
Torah Day School and Texas Torah Institute
The area’s other two Jewish schools, Texas Torah Institute, a yeshiva for high school and post-high school boys, and Torah Day School, which has students from 12 months through eighth grade, had not shared their plans by press time.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas has served a role of convener for the five day schools which are partner agencies. Rabbi Mordechai Harris, executive director for the Federation’s Center for Jewish Education, explained that the day schools are talking with one another regularly. Rabbi Harris is also a member of the Federation’s Health Crisis Management Team which was convened in early March.
“Our schools have made sure that they have planned for multiple scenarios… The puzzles that our schools are forced to solve for are complex because the guidelines coming from the state and local governments are constantly shifting and they are not necessarily in sync with each other… that’s a legal question.”
Harris said that all the schools have robust plans whether in-person, online or hybrid instruction.
The one thing that’s not an option, he said, is no school.
“To not provide an education is not an option,” Rabbi Harris said.