a classroom with desks spaced evenly throughout
A socially-distanced second-grade classroom at Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School. (Photo/Gabriel Sanchez)

The geometry of Covid-19

Normally, this is the time of year when families with school-age children are shopping for school supplies, squeezing in the last summer trip, and looking forward to the new academic year with eager anticipation. This year, it’s more a feeling of dread and uncertainty.

That feeling is shared by the dedicated teachers, administrators and staff at our Jewish schools. Like all schools across the Bay Area, they are trying to finalize their reopening plans. This has been no easy feat. Juggling the imperative to keep kids safe with the intense desire to get them back to something close to normal has proved a vexing challenge, compounded by a new state order with tough guidelines that restrict in-person school openings.

As our cover story makes plain, flexibility and creativity are the name of the game.

When shelter in place was implemented in March, schools had to improvise, literally overnight, to come up with programs of remote online instruction, something one parent we interviewed compared to “reduced-fat cheese.” Since then, schools have had several months to refine their modalities to make distance learning more successful. But have they?

Some have, and some haven’t, according to Michael Barbour, a distance learning expert at Touro University California. He told J. that distance learning can be as effective as in-person instruction, so long as teachers know how to harness its tools and the school’s leaders guide them in that learning.

Schools have had several months to make distance learning more successful. But have they?

With a lack of cohesive, consistent direction from state and local officials, however, individual schools must decide for themselves which remote learning tools work best for which classes, and come up with their own plans for eventual reopening in person.

As our story relates, every Jewish school in the Bay Area has not just one plan, but several, accounting for every contingency — while knowing full well they may have to do a last-minute pivot.

For example, when in-person learning is permitted, Brandeis Marin is ready to roll out its new classroom floor plan that places students 4 feet apart from each other and teachers at a 6-foot distance. Other schools have similar redesign plans.

Call it the geometry of Covid-19.

Fortunately, and not surprisingly, the Jewish community is standing with our schools and our families. The S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation has delivered more than $970,000 through the Jewish Day School Emergency Scholarship Fund, which bolsters the amount of financial aid that schools are able to offer to cash-strapped parents who want their children to have a top-notch Jewish education.

Everyone wants to see the economy recover and for life to return to normal. Many students are chafing at the separation from their friends, and long to return to the classroom. Their parents would also like to see them back in school, learning, socializing, thriving.

But the virus doesn’t care what we want. Therefore, we must proceed with caution. That’s exactly what the schools are doing.

J. Editorial Board

The J. Editorial Board pens editorials as the voice of J.