Frankel Jewish Academy
Frankel Jewish Academy

Find out what Frankel Jewish Academy (FJA), Yeshiva Beth Yehudah and Yeshivas Darchai Torah are planning to do with students this fall.

In developing back-to-school plans amid COVID-19 this fall, some Jewish day schools have certain organizational advantages over public schools — less bureaucracy to cope with and often a smaller student body with smaller class sizes. However, the pandemic is an equalizer in some ways — making everything more complicated.

Frankel Jewish Academy

Frankel Jewish Academy (FJA) educates 135 students in grades 9-12, at the Jewish Community Campus in West Bloomfield. According to FJA director of advancement Shana Kantor, the March transition to virtual learning was easier because students have had school-issued Macbooks for two years.  

“They were unbelievable right out of the gate with really good communication with parents,” says Julie Feldman of West Bloomfield, whose daughter Emily just completed her senior year at Frankel. Her daughter Allie will be a sophomore this year. 

julie feldman and daughter
Julie Feldman and daughter Julie Feldman

FJA’s new school year begins Aug. 31. To help develop its “Return to Learn Plan,” the school surveyed parents, students, faculty and other staff, according to Kantor. “They asked about what went well [with virtual learning] and what didn’t,” said FJA parent Meredith Weingarden of Farmington Hills. “They asked what would make us comfortable about sending them to school or staying home.” 

She added that her daughter, Emilie, a 17-year-old senior, did “pretty well” with online instruction and had good results on three AP (advanced placement) exams. Emilie describes the online format as a “pretty good experience. Everyone was going into it at the same time, which made it easier.” 

Meredith and her daughter
Meredith and her daughter Meredith W

FJA’s “Return to Learn Plan,” available on the school’s website, begins with a letter from Rabbi Azaryah Cohen, head of school, and Randell Gawel, principal. “Technology provided us with an opportunity for connection during a time when we were grappling with the challenges of social distancing and self-quarantine. It also became apparent that nothing, despite the tremendous effort and dedication of those involved, could fully replace the real benefit of face-to-face human contact and real time communication.” 

A footnote to their letter notes that the plan is subject to revision, based on changing circumstances and any new guidance from the Michigan Safe Schools Roadmap, the Centers for Disease Control and local medical professionals.

Recognizing the limitations of virtual learning, FJA will offer on-campus, in-person instruction with stringent health screening, social distancing, required masks, sanitation measures and other safeguards. The plan notes that the school will follow not only state-required safety protocols but also its “recommended” and “strongly recommended” practices. Remote, synchronous classes will be available online for students who prefer not to be physically present or who are home due to a mild illness or quarantine for COVID-19.

With the goal of minimizing time spent onsite, the FJA school day will be shortened to slightly less than five hours, with another virtual hour scheduled Monday through Thursday. Students will follow the same schedule whether learning on campus or at home. Synchronous classes will enable remote students to ask questions, see their classmates and participate in real time through a Zoom format.

“Our revised schedule, and health and safety procedures, will help ensure that there are multiple layers of intervention to safeguard our school community and prevent the spread of COVID-19 while students and staff are in the building,” the FJA statement said.

Feldman thinks that the plan is “well-thought out and safe. There is no zero risk but it’s low risk.” Weingarden concurs: “I think it’s pretty comprehensive. I think they’re doing everything they can.” 

However, she is concerned about keeping her family safe when Emilie returns to school because one family member is immuno-compromised, wondering if they need to be kept 6 feet apart. 

Emilie said she wants to return to school in-person, especially because she doesn’t want to miss out on all the fun things of senior year — prom, graduation and spirit week. Most of her friends are going in person. “My school did a great job in coming up with a plan — it’s very comprehensive.”

Kantor said FJA administrators expect that 75 to 80 percent of students will choose in-person instruction. Also, the school is receiving inquiries from prospective students because many other local schools will offer only remote learning this fall.

Orthodox Day Schools 

Yeshiva Beth Yehudah provides preschool through high school for girls and preschool through eighth grade for boys with 1,150 students at schools in Oak Park and Southfield. According to Rabbi Yitzchok Grossbard, dean of the Yeshiva, online instruction has been provided since the school buildings closed earlier in the year. 

Yeshiva Beth Yehudah has a plan for in-school instruction this fall as well as an online “learning accommodations for those who are medically unable to participate in in-person classes,” Rabbi Grossbard said. He expects the plan to be finalized and released by late August. 

Yeshivas Darchai Torah, located in Southfield, was closed until Aug. 17. Efforts to reach school officials by phone were unsuccessful. The school enrolls around 300 students in grades pre-K through 12.

Previous articleBack-to-School Fashion: There’s Never Been a Cozier Semester
Next articleNew Heads of Schools on the Block