No on-campus classes next week as school joins accelerating shutdown of L.A. due to coronavirus

Area shuls, LAUSD announce closures in race to prevent disasters hitting other countries

HOME%3A+Senior+Anna+Weiss+followed+her+SAS+Biology+class+online+during+last+Monday%E2%80%99s+school+closure+%E2%80%9Cpreparedness+drill.%E2%80%9D+All+classes+will+be+held+online+next+week%2C+according+to+an+email+sent+out+by+administration+this+afternoon.

BP Photo by Eli Weiss

HOME: Senior Anna Weiss followed her SAS Biology class online during last Monday’s school closure “preparedness drill.” All classes will be held online next week, according to an email sent out by administration this afternoon.

Sam Rubanowitz, Senior Editor

Classes will move online starting next Monday for at least a week, school officials announced today, after two all-day training sessions for online learning and following news that most other Jewish schools and synagogues in the area had closed or would be closing beginning today.

Also this morning, the Los Angeles and San Diego school districts announced they would be closing for at least two weeks. Together they serve almost one million children. 

Shalhevet’s regular school schedule had already been cancelled today — for the second time this week — as officials continued to grapple with the accelerating coronavirus outbreak and fears that its spread would overwhelm local hospitals if it is not urgently slowed.

The email was sent almost exactly at noon, and signed by Head of School Rabbi Ari Segal, Associate Head of School Rabbi David Block, Principal Mr. Daniel Weslow, and Chief Operating Officer Ms. Sarah Emerson.

It said that they had consulted not only with public health authorities but with the school’s posek, or rabbinic authority, Rabbi Jeremy Weider, who is the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva University.

“Please know that we don’t take closing lightly,” said the email. 

“In his conversations with us, Rabbi Wieder emphasized that we must act per the guidance of the local health authorities,” it said, “and at the same time reminded us of the costs of keeping our kids home when they are not directly threatened by COVID 19 – namely diminished Talmud Torah and general learning, as well as a lack of socialization.

“All that being said, we will be closing for next week and moving fully to online classes on Monday morning.”

The email also added a technology update: that teachers would now be using two platforms for online learning: Google Hangouts — which was the platform used by all teachers during the preparedness drill this past Monday — and Zoom, a program used by other schools including SAR in Riverdale, N.Y. 

And it said the future was difficult to predict. 

 “The pace at which the circumstances around COVID-19 have developed has been rapid and consistently changing and we want to make decisions with as much information as possible,” the email said. 

Asked later by the Boiling Point when school would be likely to resume, Rabbi Segal said he did not know.

“Things are rapidly changing,” Rabbi Segal wrote, “so I don’t have an answer for that question.”

Later today, in his weekly Friday email to the Shalhevet community sent at 1:14 p.m., Rabbi Segal shared that in order to keep providing wages to school’s hourly workers, they will take advantage of the empty building to work on tasks that would have been done over the summer.

“Our plan is to take all of our summer construction projects and have the maintenance crew come in while students are not in the building so that we can make sure that they can continue to have a paycheck,” he wrote. 

 

Next week’s school closure comes after the cancellation of today’s (Friday’s) classes for a second training and preparation day, in anticipation of an eventual closure whose date had not yet been set.

Last Monday, all classes met online for a trial run — albeit according to a special fast day schedule, in which school ended at 1:10 p.m. because it was Ta’anit Esther, the day before Purim.

This time, no classes were scheduled at all. Instead, students were encouraged to come to school for davening and asked to come into school in the morning to retrieve their school materials.

In an interview with the Boiling Point before next week’s closure was announced, senior Ariel Urman said she went to school Friday for a drama rehearsal from 9:30 to 11:00 a.m. She said the student directors for the drama club decided to have rehearsal today because they suspected the school would be closed on Monday and this would be the last chance to practice before school closed.

In his conversations with us, Rabbi Wieder emphasized that we must act per the guidance of the local health authorities, and at the same time reminded us of the costs of keeping our kids home when they are not directly threatened by COVID 19 – namely diminished Talmud Torah and general learning, as well as a lack of socialization.”

— Email from school administrators quoting Rabbi Jeremy Wieder of Yeshiva University

Ariel said she thought the school wouldn’t open on Monday.

“Well it doesn’t seem like they would… have us try to get our stuff today for us to be here again Monday,” Ariel said.

She said it was “just really quiet” in the building and she saw no more than about 10 people at school aside from those at drama rehearsal.

Also this week, on Thursday afternoon five shuls in the Pico-Robertson area announced temporary closures beginning today: B’nai David-Judea, Young Israel of Century City, Beth Jacob Congregation, and Young Israel of North Beverly Hills.

In an email to congregants, B’nai David-Judea described the closure.

“We are suspending all in-person activities at BDJ, including offsite events, effective Friday morning through at least all of Monday,” the email states, and “will not be offering any minyanim or other activities for Shabbat.”

While that might have made next week’s closure more inevitable, the announcement of Friday’s no-class day still came as a surprise, in the form of an email sent out Thursday at 9:10 p.m. by Rabbi Segal. 

“With many of the local shuls announcing their closures, we want to be prepared in case we need to close starting on Monday,” Rabbi Segal wrote.

“As such, we have decided to cancel classes for tomorrow and use tomorrow instead as a training/prep day for faculty to continue to tweak and refine the online learning systems that we began to explore on Monday.”

It said the school building would not be closed and school is planned to resume normally come Monday. It also said there would be minyanim (prayer services) at 9 a.m., to be followed by breakfast.

Rabbi Segal asked that students come into school between 9 and 11 A.M. to retrieve their school materials like “books, tefilin, laptops, etc.”

While davening was not required, students were “strongly urged” to attend. Breakfast was also served. In a Schoology post at 8:15 a.m., Rabbi Segal wrote: “Rumor has it that there is grilled cheese for breakfast at Shalhevet….”

Grilled cheese is the food choice usually served on Fridays, but Director of Student Activities & Judaic Studies Ilana Wilner commented on Rabbi Segal’s post, adding that there would be hot cocoa as well.

Junior Joey Blumofe went to school Friday to daven and pick up his school books. He said that there were about 20 people in davening in total: 16 men and four women. Ten of the 16 men were faculty and the rest were students, Joey said, and the four women were made up of two faculty and two students.

Joey said he was disappointed that the davening was only publicized by email.

“The fact that davening was happening at 9 o’clock I felt should have been publicized on Schoology, because it wasn’t very clear,” Joey said. “It was just in an email and I don’t get the emails for some reason, I got it from my parents.”

He said he wasn’t so surprised because of the closures of other schools in the area.

“It’s a precautionary measure to say that if we do close for an extended period of time, then you’re able to get your materials,” he said.

 

Meanwhile, a separate email sent to parents earlier Thursday was sent earlier yesterday from leaders of four Los Angeles Jewish high schools.

Co-signed by Rabbi Segal and the heads of schools of Valley Torah High School and YULA Boys and Girls High Schools, it was sent at 4:43 p.m. and announced that the plan “is for each individual high school to send a schedule update by Sunday evening finalizing next week’s school schedule.”

It’s a precautionary measure to say that if we do close for an extended period of time, then you’re able to get your materials.”

— Joey Blumofe, 11th grade

“We want to reiterate that we fully support each individual school in making the best decision that is appropriate for their school community,” the heads of school wrote.

Meanwhile, fear of the virus presenting itself is not only affecting the school day itself: Shalhevet is currently registered as a Sunday SAT test-taking location, and there is an SAT exam scheduled for this Sunday at 8 a.m.

Junior Noa Ablin said she asked Ms. Aviva Walls, Dean of Academic Affairs and Director of College Counseling.

“I emailed Aviva to double check and she said that it was supposed to go as scheduled,” Noa said. “…since it’s so little people that they don’t feel it necessary to postpone.”

The Friday class cancellation came just a day after a webinar with LA County Public Health officials and Rabbi Segal, viewed by 112 students and parents, in which the officials advised the school not to close and wait for the opportune moment.

Dr. Zachary Rubin, Chief of the Healthcare Outreach Unit at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LADPH) Acute Communicable Disease Control Program, warned that the timing of a school closing must be set carefully and that there would be negative consequences if schools were shut down too early or too late.

“You want to try to get as close as you can to when the community transmission is about to blast off and start increasing, but not too late in that you miss it and the benefit is not that great,” Dr. Rubin said.

He said that the coronavirus outbreak is not extensive enough yet in Los Angeles to necessitate school closures, but that it would be in the “next days to week — a week to two, couple of weeks.”

“I think we’re probably going to pull the trigger on some of these things fairly soon,” he said, “but we’re not quite ready to do it yet, and at that point we would recommend that schools do distance learning as much as possible.”

Community Editor Molly Litvak contributed to this story.