Religious schools split on virtual, in-person sessions as fall semester opens

By Lisa Hornung
For Community

A beekeeper explains his work to LBSY students ahead of the 2019 High Holy Days. This year, most local religious schools are starting the year virtually because of the pandemic. (photo provided by LBSY.)

Louisville’s five Jewish religious schools are taking different approaches to starting school this fall. Some have delayed their starts, some are meeting virtually, and some are conducting classes in person with serious sanitary measures.

Louisville Beit Sefer Yachad
LBSY, which serves students from Adath Jeshurun, Keneseth Israel and Temple Shalom, is beginning the year virtually, said Head of School Bev Weinberg. It will meet online, twice a week, for at least the first five weeks before reevaluating.
During that time, “we’ve modified our program, and we’re going to do enhanced family programming and individualized tutoring and Hebrew tutoring as part of our program,” Weinberg said.
The school is hosting a drive-through orientation on Aug. 30, with a “drive-through Jewish history kind of quiz with prizes,” and entertainment.
Weinberg said there will be interactive classroom programming, and the third- through seventh-graders will have shortened class sessions for their Hebrew lessons on Wednesdays.
LBSY also is planning an initiative called Mishpacha Boker Tov on Sundays, in which families will sing songs, learn about Torah or holidays, followed by breakout sessions with their teachers.

The Temple, Chester B. Diamond Religious School
School will start on Aug. 30, meeting virtually for at least the first semester, said Principal Sarah Harlan.
She said the school has divided into smaller groups online and has more targeted teaching through Zoom. Also, all classes will come together periodically for music or more spirited activities.
The school is at about 60 percent of its normal enrollment because of the pandemic, Harlan said.
“We knew going into this school year that no matter what is happening in regular school, this was not going to be a regular year for us,” she said.
Students will still have classes together, including specialized classes in Jewish cooking, writing with Jewish prompts, community service, or other subjects that interest the students.
In addition, some graduates of the school who are now in rabbinical school will teach some classes via Zoom.
Harlan said the experiences of last spring have left them excited and encouraged about this fall.

High School for Jewish Studies
HSJS is meeting virtually, but classes will not begin until Oct. 11 because of the timing of the High Holidays, said Harlan, who doubles as that school’s principal.
Because classes will be held over Zoom, session times have been reduced, but Harlan said they could be tweaked, depending on students’ desire.
She doesn’t yet know if the pandemic has affected enrollment because of the late start, but she is optimistic.
“We’re glad our families are sticking with us,” Harlan said. “We’re going try to give the best Jewish education we can.”

Montessori Torah Academy
Classes began Aug. 17 in person with all the recommended precautions, said Rabbi Yitzy Mandel, who runs the school.
“We had an inspection from the Department of Health, and interestingly, they told me that we were the first school that they inspected in terms of COVID-19,” Mandel said. “We passed with flying colors. We had another inspection from the (Kentucky) Division of Regulated Childcare, so we were cleared to go.”
Mandel said parents are expected to inform the school of symptoms or suspected COVID cases within their households or “even within their synagogue or places that they’re going.”
“If they’re traveling, they need to tell us, if they are going to [COVID] hotspots, they cannot come to the school,” he continued. “There are daily health checks for the children. They answer a questionnaire. They get a temperature check before they enter the building.”
The elementary and preschools are separated, with staggered arrival times and enhanced cleaning policies. Instead of a rug, which is a staple for Montessori schools, there will be yoga mats, which can be cleaned better after use.
Enrollment in the school, which runs through the third grade, has risen from five to 12 students since last year. Mandel said he is willing to accommodate parents who want their kids to participate from home.

Louisville Jewish Day School
Though the school, which has 20 students, will open on Aug. 31, Principal Goldie Litvin said plans to open are still fluid.
Litvin said the school is complying with Gov. Andy Beshear’s guidelines.
“We took everything out of our building and we power washed and sanitized everything that we own,” she said.
Children from the same family will be allowed to sit together, Litvin said, but the rooms are big enough to space out the other desks. Teachers will have Plexiglass barriers on their desks and will wear masks, along with students, when working one-on-one.
They also will be familiar with cleaning protocols.
“They’re going to learn a lot about cleaning,” Litvin said, “so you know Clorox wipes and Lysol are going to be paramount in our school this year.”
If Beshear mandates school closures, Litvin said LJDS will switch to non-traditional instruction (NTI). She also said enrollment has been affected by the pandemic.
“Some parents are planning to just homeschool,” Litvin said. “If somebody doesn’t want to come, we’re willing to be online for those students. But I think parents are just nervous, and I completely understand.”

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