While public schools in Baltimore City and County have opted to start the 2020-2021 academic year online, some local independent schools — including Pikesville’s Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School and Krieger Schechter Day School — will offer hybrid educational models this fall.
On Aug. 18, Dr. Zipora Schorr, director of education at Beth Tfiloh, and KSDS Head of School Rabbi Moshe Schwartz joined “The Upside” co-hosts Dr. Scott Rifkin, publisher of Jmore, and Beth H. Goldsmith, chair of the board of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, to discuss their schools’ opening plans.
“These times are extraordinarily tension-filled and stressful — for parents, for kids, for teachers, for all of us.” said Dr. Schorr. “I know Rabbi Schwartz would agree with me that there is no such thing as a right or wrong answer [about whether to offer in-person learning].
“We’ve spent an enormous amount of time coming up with a reopening plan that takes into consideration, first and foremost, the health and wellness and wellbeing of our school community,” she said. “I happen to agree with the American Pediatric Association assessment that children are suffering and children need to be in school.”
Still, Dr. Schorr said she respects every parent’s decision about what is right for their family regarding in-person school attendance
She said Beth Tfiloh’s preschool will open, but parents who choose not to send in their youngsters for what the school is calling IPL (In-Person Learning) will be able to use the online platform Zoom to visit their classrooms at “key times so they feel connected” to peers and teachers.
Students in BT’s lower school can choose from the school’s “Virtual Academy,” which will include online learning, or participate in an IPL program.
IPL students will be divided into small pods of up to 14 children and will interact only with others assigned to their pods. Dr. Schorr said the two pods will be entirely separated, using different entrances and staggered schedules.
She stressed that IPL will adhere strictly to safety guidelines, including frequent hand-washing, mask wearing and social distancing.
Fifth and ninth grade students at Beth Tfiloh who choose IPL will have a schedule that most closely resembles what the first year of middle school and the first year of high school would look like under normal circumstances.
“Those are the two grades who have not yet been in those divisions, so we feel strongly that they need to live their experience in that division,” said Dr. Schorr.
Students in grades 6-8 and 10-12 will have staggered schedules. “Every single student at BT has the option to be IPL or virtual,” said Dr. Schorr.
Rabbi Schwartz said KSDS came up with its reopening plan after much deliberation.
“We put together a bunch of committees, including a health committee,” he said. “We vetted our plans with our faculty and brought them on board from the beginning because their safety and health is of paramount importance. And we understand with uncertainty and risk that we must have the courage to make challenging decisions, but they’re guided by the commitment to our mission, to health and safety, and to prioritizing our students’ academic learning.”
Rabbi Schwartz said KSDS students will be offered a hybrid model in which students will be on campus several days a week and learn from their homes on other days.
“While there’s always [an exclusively] virtual option, we believe that by reducing the total number of students on campus on any given day, there will be opportunities for a calmer opening that will allow us to ensure this for the long-term,” he said. “Listening, research and collaboration were key to writing a plan for a hybrid start to the school year.”
Coming from a medical and health care perspective, Dr. Rifkin challenged the educators about their reopening plans.
“I don’t really think social distancing for young children is ever going to work,” he said. “We’re already seeing kids getting this disease, kids dying from this disease, and we’re already seeing their parents get this disease from them. … How do you not have this happen with a virus that is this contagious?”
While the day school leaders agreed that there is some risk in offering face-to-face learning during the pandemic, Rabbi Schwartz pointed to statistics that show that risks are relatively low if students and their families commit to following prescribed safety guidelines.
Rabbi Schwartz recommended that listeners review the KSDS “Roadmap to Reopening” document on the school’s website to learn more about how the decision to offer in-person learning was made.
Both Rabbi Schwartz and Dr. Schorr stressed that parents need to be committed to following through on social distancing, hand-washing and mask-wearing guidelines when their children are not on campus.
“We’ve told our parents, ‘This is a contract, a sacred contract,’” said Dr. Schorr.
For more from Rabbi Schwartz and Dr. Schorr, watch the full conversation here: