Hillel Day School
(Courtesy of Hillel Day School)

The case at the Early Childhood Center is the school’s second in a month, but no students are sick.

A staffer at Hillel Day School’s Early Childhood Center has been diagnosed with COVID-19, and the school has implemented its safety protocols to continue offering in-person learning to as many students as possible while minimizing the potential spread of the virus.

Hillel Head of School Dr. Darin Katz and school nurse Gail Chynoweth notified all Hillel parents of the diagnosis in a letter sent Monday, Sept. 28, on Yom Kippur. The letter was obtained by the JN and the details were confirmed in an interview with Katz.

The affected staffer was asymptomatic but had escorted all of Hillel’s ECC4 students, totaling around 40 children, on an outdoor tashlich event for Rosh Hashanah. Everyone was wearing masks, Katz said.

In addition to asking parents to quarantine all EEC4 students for 14 days, the period of time recommended by the Oakland County Health Department, the school also closed the entire ECC wing on Tuesday, Sept. 29, for additional contact tracing.

Hillel held its K-8 classes, which are in a separate wing of the building, as normal. In addition, Katz said, the school is putting plans in place to invite its other ECC grades, minus grade 4, back for in-person learning within the next few days.

“I firmly believe to my core that the health and safely protocols that we have worked on for months are working,” Katz said. “We’re living in a pandemic. These situations are going to come up. The entire Hillel community is responding extremely well.”

Hillel has continued to offer in-person learning for its nearly 400 students this school year, with options for at-home instruction. The school previously had one staffer test positive for the virus one month ago, shortly before the start of the school year.

In both cases, the school said, nurse Chynoweth conducted “extensive” contact tracing and the Oakland County Health Department was notified.

“As of this moment no student has contracted COVID,” Katz said. “We are being completely forthright and honest with our parents and our communications. And any staff member who has contracted COVID has gotten it from outside of the school.”

Katz added that the school immediately moves to quarantine any COVID-positive staff member so as to minimize the spread of the virus.

No additional information was given on the COVID-positive staffer so as to respect their privacy, but the letter to parents wished them “a refuah shlemah.”

Hillel parent Michal Nodel has two children enrolled in the school, including one in the exposed ECC4 grade. Nodel praised the school for its “swift communication and action,” adding that the school’s response to the COVID case “makes me feel good and probably more confident to send my kid to school” when the quarantine period lifts.

“I know my kids are so lucky to even have the option to go to school,” she said. “They are so happy to be there… Even though they’re wearing masks all day, it doesn’t seem to bother them. They feel loved and they’re stimulated and they’re coming home so excited.”

Nodel added that it was “not surprising” that in-person instruction could lead to an exposure. “What’s good is that there are clear protocols in place.”

Hillel is also offering select high-risk teachers the option to teach their classes remotely, with the students themselves sitting in class and another certified teacher or proctor present in the room. This plan was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

The school is offering this option to “master teachers” who have been with the Hillel community for a long time, Katz said, adding that from the school’s perspective, it made more sense to outfit those teachers with remote-learning capabilities than it did to recruit new teachers to lead in-person instruction. Eight of Hillel’s 92 teachers are teaching remotely, according to the WSJ.

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