With the rise of COVID-19 cases in Maryland, particularly among children, schools are reassessing their protocols for the start of the new school year.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association released a report earlier this month providing state-by-state data on the number of infections. According to the report, there were 93,824 child COVID-19 cases reported nationwide during the week of July 29 through Aug. 5, representing 15% of the total weekly reported cases. According to the Maryland Department of Health, COVID-19 cases among children increased to 151 new cases as of Aug. 10, an increase from 62 cases two weeks prior. The data indicates that hospitalization is still uncommon among children.
In light of the increase of cases among children, the Maryland Department of Education released a 12-page document on guidelines for schools on mitigation strategies. The report leaves it up to each school system to develop its own policies and procedures for their schools, staff and student population but encourages school systems to work with their local health departments on these strategies.
Heading into the new school year, Jewish day schools are remaining vigilant about their COVID-19 protocols.
Rabbi Moshe Schwartz, head of school at Krieger Schechter Day School, said that last year the school did not have a single case of COVID-19.
Schwartz said the school operates with strict protocols and with the commitment from parents to follow the rules. The school is requiring masks for this year. Additionally, Krieger Schechter will require all students and staff to receive the flu vaccine by Dec. 3, and will require that all students receive the COVID-19 vaccine once it receives emergency use authorization for children ages 5-11. Currently, all building-wide employees are vaccinated against COVID-19, Schwartz said.
In addition, Krieger Schechter will implement social distancing by spacing desks three feet apart.
The school has no plans to offer virtual classes, Schwartz said.
“Our policy will be that if a student tests positive for COVID-19 and is out of school for 10 days (or more), we will make arrangements for the student to Zoom in, but this will not be for every period of every day,” he said.
The decision-making process involves collaboration and listening, Schwartz said.
“We have an outstanding group of volunteer medical professionals who lead our Health and Safety Committee,” Schwartz said. “I am in frequent contact with area schools, both Jewish day schools, other independent schools and other faith-based schools locally and nationally. Like all schools, we have received guidance from the Maryland Department of Health, which also incorporates the CDC guidance.
“The guidance is constantly shifting so we have to be adaptive,” Schwartz continued. “The goal this year is to protect the unvaccinated and those with other health conditions. We have 100% of all employees fully vaccinated.”
Zipora Schorr, director of education at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, said that masks would be required in school.
The school sent out a letter to parents outlining the school’s protocols going into the new school year. These protocols include requiring eligible students to be vaccinated, and that the school will do teaching “IRL” — in real life.
While social distancing would be enforced in large groups, there is less concern over this as everyone will be masked, Schorr said.
But, she said, “we must remain cautious.”
“Our decisions are very carefully arrived at, with input from senior administrators, lay leaders, serious study of the statistics, metrics and relevant research, all under the guidance of our medical team, whose expertise and experience are invaluable,” Schorr said. “Our chief adviser trained with [Dr. Anthony] Fauci and is the director of the infectious diseases program at the [University of Maryland, College Park].”