YHT Reopening Information Page



Last updated: May 24, 2021

Welcome

Dear YHT Family,

Welcome to the Yeshiva Har Torah Reopening Information Page.

When we thought about how best to communicate about our reopening planning, and how medical guidance, best practices, and facts on the ground change daily, we realized that we needed a living document that we can update in real time. This page is intended to be that living document. We value your time and attention, and therefore will strive to keep this page as concrete, to-the-point, and transparent as possible.

You will find answers to many questions below, as well as questions or issues to which we do not yet have final answers. That said, please realize that everything on this page is subject to change; that is the very reason this page exists. Our understanding of Covid-19 will change. Medical guidance could change. Government rules and guidance could change. The nature and degree of the outbreak will also change.

To that end, please check back frequently. In order to assist you and facilitate transparency there is a change log at the end of this document, which will keep track of substantive changes we make and, where appropriate, include the rationale for that change.

If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to reopening@hartorah.org.

Thank you, The YHT Reopening Task Force

Guiding Principles

As we work toward reopening Yeshiva Har Torah for the 2020-21 school year, we recognize the importance of balancing the health of our students, faculty, and staff with the educational needs of our students. This is an unprecedented challenge, one that requires both academic and medical expertise. We are fortunate to have the continued help of Dr. Sharon Nachman as our medical consultant, as well as administrative staff and a group of talented lay leaders to help plan as safe a reopening as possible. We also benefit from a wealth of helpful guidance, some of which is referenced further down this page. As we process all the available information and try to account for all the information we don't yet have, we will look to the 6 Guiding Principles enumerated by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health to help make decisions:


  1. Err on the side of caution;

  2. Layer defenses;

  3. Everyone must do their part and share responsibility to keep us all safe;

  4. Limit and track Covid-19 transmission chains as much as possible;

  5. Maintain flexibility as our understanding of this virus develops and changes; and

  6. Ensure equity to all students, faculty, and staff.

Plans & Planning

Schedules & Classrooms

  • Subject to further guidance and rule changes, we believe we can safely have all students in school, every day for the entire day, starting on the first day of school.

  • Students will be placed in small (typically 11-12 students) cohorts -- "chaburot" -- for the entire school day, including all instruction, lunch, specialty classes, and recess. The intent of a cohort model is to minimize germ spread and allow for tracing should a student test positive for Covid-19. Additionally, the model ensures that the maximum number of students possible can remain in school when someone in school tests positive. Starting after Shavuot, classes will no longer be divided into pods. The large dividers will be removed over the break and students will be able to interact with their entire class. In the event that someone in a class tests positive, we will trace contacts on a case-by-case basis to determine who in the classroom and school must quarantine.

  • We will not have large gatherings in school. Lunch will be eaten in classrooms. Tefillah will likewise take place in small groups. In some cases, the way we group students for instruction will have to be modified as well, including, for example, more homogeneous groupings.

  • Students in all grades will be required to wear masks indoors. Safe times for mask breaks will be built into the day. Teachers will wear masks at all times. If the teacher is distanced and behind a clear divider they will be provided with, they can wear a clear face shield.

    • Masks with vents are not permitted in school.

  • We recognize that some students will not always be able or willing to come to school. This could occur because a student or family member of the student is immuno-compromised, the student has symptoms or is waiting for the results of a Covid-19 test, the student tested positive for Covid-19, or someone in their chaburah tested positive for Covid-19. We also recognize and understand that some parents may not feel comfortable sending their children to school at all times. To help with that, we intend to offer parallel remote learning for all classes, to the best of our ability, so that students can keep up with their classes even when not physically present in class.

  • Unlike our usual and preferred practice, we will not purchase supplies for students this school year or utilize a communal school supply model. We will be crediting the school supply fee and will provide parents with a traditional school supply list to purchase for their child.

  • Regular hand washing will be emphasized and built into the day.

  • We will maintain recess, physical education, and movement breaks throughout the day.

  • Students in Grades 3 and up will be issued their own Chromebook or iPad that will be kept in school for their use only.

  • Students in all grades will not be required to wear masks outside unless they are playing contact sports. Families who would like their children to continue to wear masks outdoors should notify the student’s teachers.

General Policies

  • Students will be required to produce a negative test before school starts from a test taken between August 31st and September 6. We emailed out additional details to all parents, including acceptable tests, and regarding free testing that will be offered at lice check.

    • If your child will be in sleepaway camp during the 14 days before school starts, we have been advised by our medical consultant that they must be tested closer to the start of school. Therefore, these children must be tested between Thursday, September 3rd and Sunday, September 6th.

  • Students must comply with New York State's travel restrictions.

  • Visitors, including parents, will not be allowed in the building, except for limited purposes (e.g., Chagigat HaSiddur, hanachat tefillin, etc.). In those circumstances, all adults will be required to document being two weeks post vaccination or produce a negative PCR from within 72 hours of coming to school. These visits must be approved in advance with the administration and will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

  • We will require parents to certify daily by 7:30AM that their children are symptom-free before school and will report this, to the extent required, to New York State or health agencies. We will also perform random temperature checks in school.

    • If a student fails the daily health screening, they should go see their pediatrician. They can return to school when cleared by their pediatrician AND they have been free of any symptoms and without fever for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications.

  • Per CDC guidance, and New York Sate requirements, if a student exhibits any of the following symptoms, s/he will need a negative PCR to return to school:

  • Temperature 100.0 degrees Fahrenheit or higher;

  • Sore throat;

  • New uncontrolled cough that causes difficulty breathing (for students with chronic allergic/asthmatic cough, a change in their cough from baseline)

  • Diarrhea, vomiting, or abdominal pain;

  • New onset of severe headache, especially with a fever; or

  • Loss of taste or smell.

If your child exhibits the following symptoms s/he will need a documented alternate diagnosis (e.g., positive strep test, positive flu test, documentation of prior allergies, etc.) and can return in accordance with ordinary practice for that diagnosis, or a negative PCR to return (Per New York’s requirements: "A signed doctor's note documenting unconfirmed acute illnesses, such as viral upper respiratory illness (URI) or viral gastroenteritis, will not suffice."):

  • Controllable cough;

  • Fatigue;

  • Body aches; or

  • Nasal congestion/runny nose.


  • If a student exhibits the above symptoms in school they will be moved to a designated isolation room until they are picked up. The person picking them up will wait outside and the student will be brought out to them.

  • If a symptomatic person is waiting for a test result, all household members -- including faculty, staff, and students -- should isolate and may not return to school until the test results come back.

  • When a student or teacher tests positive for Covid-19, they can return to school 10 days after the symptoms first appeared AND resolution of any fever for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications AND their symptoms improve.

  • If a student has been in close contact (per the CDC, defined as "any individual who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes") with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19 outside of school (e.g., a family member, playdate, etc.) they must notify the school and cannot return to school until 10 days after the last exposure, and receiving a negative PCR result from a test performed on day 7 or later.

      • All PCR test results should be submitted to testresults@hartorah.org.

      • If the student tests positive or develops symptoms, they will begin a new 10 day quarantine.

      • If the student subsequently develops the symptoms above, they can return 10 days after the symptoms first appeared AND resolution of any fever for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications

      • For counting purposes, “day 1” is defined as the day after your last exposure (e.g., if a person is exposed on January 1, day 1 is January 2 and they can return to school with a negative PCR on January 12).

      • This highlights the importance of always being mindful that our actions carry consequences for others. We all have to do our part and act responsibly, even outside of school.

  • Determining specific thresholds for when we would need to move from fully opened school to a hybrid model (i.e., A/B days or weeks, and other adaptations to reduce building capacity and increase distancing), from a hybrid model to full distance learning, and back again, is extremely difficult and somewhat arbitrary. It also may ultimately be dictated by New York State. Guidance from local governance on the precise threshold is currently conflicting and we are monitoring this for further clarification and updates.

Social/Emotional

  • We recognize the critical role social/emotional learning and development play in our students’ academic learning and cognitive growth, even more so now.

  • In preparation for our the students’ return, we are planning intensive faculty professional development, including:

    1. Specific guidance on processing students’ experiences in a compassionate and supportive manner, within the classroom context;

    2. Understanding the reactions of students through a “trauma” lens (i.e., students may have a more difficult time with attention, organization, and regulating emotions than they may have otherwise experienced);

    3. Identifying red flags and warning signs;

    4. Coping strategies for students; and

    5. An opportunity for staff to share and process their own feelings and reactions

  • Our psychology team will meet with teachers of each class to share important information that will facilitate each child’s adjustment to school.

  • During the school year, the psychology staff will hold ongoing workshops to facilitate social emotional learning and embed it into the curriculum.

  • Faculty will have regular meetings with a member of the psychology team to monitor their class and individual students, provide support and strategies, and identify students who are struggling emotionally, socially, or academically.

  • A member of the psychology team will meet with either small groups of students or individually with students who would benefit from greater support.

  • Class-wide discussion will be facilitated on a regular basis by a member of the psychology team to enrich the social emotional growth of our students.

  • As always, parents are a critical partner in all of our endeavors. We ask that you share with Dr. Feinberg (kfeinberg@hartorah.org) any concerns or relevant information about your child or family that will be helpful in meeting your child’s emotional needs. The psychology team is always available to answer questions as well as provide guidance and support. Please feel free to reach out to Dr. Feinberg or Dr. Acobas (eacobas@hartorah.org) at any time before or during the school year.

  • Members of the psychology team will continue to maintain the highest level of professionalism and confidentiality.

Playdates

  • Whenever possible, and to the maximum extent possible, playdates should be outdoors and kept to small groups.

  • An adult should be present during playdates to remind children to wear masks and ensure compliance with safety guidelines.

  • Parents are responsible for ensuring that all playdates their children attend comply with school guidelines.

  • If a child tests positive, the child’s family must notify YHT of all recent playdates and attendees for contact tracing purposes.

  • All of these guidelines are equally applicable to a playdate on Shabbat.

Smachot and Other Events

  • We are currently following the New York State event guidelines. Attendees at events that do not follow all state guidelines may be asked to use distance learning for a precautiomary period.

Physical Plant

  • Our building is undergoing important modifications to allow students to sit in chaburot and minimize germ spread. We are re-purposing several large spaces, including the lunchroom and beit midrash, to create additional classrooms. We are fortunate that the overwhelming majority of our classrooms are very large, which will allow for social distancing within each chaburah, while having two distinct chaburot in each classroom. We expect that the chaburot will be separated by see-through dividers (possibly poly-carbonate but we are also researching other less expensive materials that have been brought to our attention), allowing all students to see and hear the teacher at all times.

  • We are modifying all of our ventilation systems to include Merv-13 (HEPA) filtering. Where and when possible, we will let in fresh air. In areas without windows, we will supplement air flow with appropriate air purifying devices.

      • We also researched installing UV-C lights in our air handlers, with the help of biomedical engineers and physical scientists, as an additional precaution. Based on their advice, we have, for now, opted not to install these because, in their view, while the available research does show that UV-C light in the 200-280nm range can kill viruses (UV-C in the 100-200nm range is absorbed by the atmosphere and will not do anything) on surfaces, it has not been established that UV-C light can be provided at an intensity (joules per centimeter squared) sufficient to kill virus in fast moving air. It is possible that UV-C light directed at the air handler's coil or filter may be effective in killing virus that accumulates on those parts but that too is unproven and there are also open questions whether the light would do much beyond killing what's laying on the surface (as opposed to further inside the filter or inside the coil) or whether it would materially impact air quality regardless. We will continue to monitor research in this area and change course if the benefits are sufficiently documented. TL;DR: We are monitoring additional research on UV-C but for now are not installing it in our air handlers.

      • Similarly, we have researched the use of bipolar ionization in air handler systems. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers' (ASHRAE) current position on this technology is that "[c]onvincing scientifically-rigorous, peer-reviewed studies do not currently exist on this emerging technology; manufacturer data should be carefully considered. Systems may emit ozone, some at high levels."

  • Purell dispensers will be kept full in all classrooms.

  • Hallway water fountains are being replaced with hand-washing and/or bottle filling stations.

    • Students should bring in a refillable water bottle.

  • High contact surfaces and bathrooms will be cleaned and disinfected multiple times per day, in accordance with best practices. Bathroom occupancy is limited to 4 or less persons at a time.

  • Lockers will not be used this school year to avoid crowding and mixing. Additional storage space is being made in classrooms for students to store materials.

Transportation

  • The New York State Department of Education has indicated that districts must provide busing for all students. Most students' busing is handled by their local school district and parents will hear from the districts directly. Parents of children who utilize private busing will hear from the school.

  • New York State mandates that students on buses must wear masks.

  • Medical guidance indicates that group bus stops are preferable to door-to-door bus service in order to reduce the time students are on buses. To the extent we have a say in the matter, we will heed that guidance.

  • We anticipate that more parents than normal will want to pickup and drop-off their children, regardless of the availability of busing. We also want to avoid having students congregate in our lobby. Accordingly, students will be assigned different entrances to use for entering and exiting the building from, based on their grade.

Change Log

When substantive changes are made to this page, we will log them here, along with the rationale for the change.

Reopening Change Log

Important References

Reopening Task Force Members

  • Academic and Social/Emotional Prong: Rabbi Gary Menchel (chair), Ms. Pesha Kletenik, Mrs. Vivian Rosenberg, Mrs. Sara Duani, Rabbi Etan Ehrenfeld, Dr. Karyn Feinberg

  • Physical Plant and Medical Prong: Dr. Abby Basalely (co-chair), Marc Goldmann (co-chair), Dr. Ada Berkowitz, Michael Mandelstam, Ed Fox, Dr. Marc Wilkenfeld, Adam Zitter

  • Financial Prong: David Abrahmov (chair), Ephi Strazynski, Ari Feldman, Adam Gelnick, David Natanov

  • Faculty Committee: Shayna Porush, Eliana Zelman, Orit Lax

  • Medical Consultant: Dr. Sharon Nachman, Director of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children's Hospital

Email Regarding Shared Responsibilities and Expectations

Dear Parents,

We are counting down the hours to when our precious students will excitedly arrive, smiles under masks, to reunite with their friends and start a new school year. We cannot wait to hear the sounds of learning coming from the classrooms.

As you know, every year, we select an overarching theme as the direction of our middot, character building, program. This year, we will focus on achrayut, taking personal responsibility. As you will hear at Meet the Teacher Night, the lessons will be focused on how our students can stand up and take action to help others and society at large. During the month of September, we will focus on how we are each responsible to keep ourselves and our friends healthy. Our younger students will read the book The Mask Mitzvah, by Leora Lazarous, and all students will have targeted discussions about how our actions during a pandemic can greatly affect the health of others. As our partners, we count on you to join us in this effort of teaching our children how to have healthy behaviors.

YHT has devoted tremendous resources and time to make school as safe as possible this year. However, everyone has an important role to play in keeping everyone else healthy. By choosing to send your children to YHT, you are committing to being a part of our family, a close community, united by our shared values and commitment to the special type of education that we provide here. You are also committing to a social contract, understanding that your actions, and the actions of your family, will have an impact on all of us in the community. We trust that you take this responsibility with the gravity that it holds, as the health and wellbeing of every student and faculty member -- as well as their families -- and our ability to maintain in-person instruction depend on it.

As a result, in order for children to be permitted to continue in-person learning, families must comply with CDC, New York, and local safety protocols outside of school. This is a safety precaution, not a punishment. Families who do not comply will be accommodated via our robust distance learning option. These protocols include wearing masks indoors (except when at home without guests) and when it is not possible to maintain a distance of six feet from others outdoors, maintaining proper social distancing, avoiding large gatherings, and quarantining for the full mandated period after exposure to someone who tests positive or visiting a state on the New York list of “hot spot” states or another country, among other things. These protocols also include:

  • Completing the daily health screening honestly;

  • Quarantining if exposed;

  • Staying home when sick; and

  • Not participating in athletics or other outside activities that do not conform to CDC, New York, and local health and safety protocols. This also includes avoiding indoor activities where mask wearing and social distancing are not required.

These rules apply at all times, including on Shabbat and chagim, during playdates, participating on athletic teams and leagues, and at smachot. Please keep in mind that if students are in close contact with someone who tests positive, those students are required to quarantine for 14 days. In general, minimizing exposure to others minimizes the risk of this occurring.

We have designated Ms. Sandy Weiss as our COVID compliance monitor. Her role will be to ensure that every student and faculty member completes our daily health screening, and to keep meticulous records as we trace cases that may arise. Any information regarding anyone in our school community having contact with a positive COVID case, or of a student or family member contracting the virus, must be communicated by email to sweiss@hartorah.org and copied to reopening@hartorah.org.

We assure you that every measure that can be taken on our end to provide the safest, most child friendly environment possible, has been taken and we look to you to uphold your responsibilities to our school community. We owe that to each other. We look forward to a unique but joyous return to school for our students for what will be the beginning of a successful and fulfilling year for each of them.

K’Tiva VaChatima Tovah,

Rabbi Gary Menchel, Head of School

Eli Schilowitz, President of the Board

Ms. Pesha Kletenik, Principal

Morah Vivian Rosenberg, Director of Early Childhood


Parental Waiver, Release, and Indemnification - Please Read Carefully

Despite our significant planning and efforts, which have been informed by medical and governmental guidance, we want to remind you that COVID-19 is an extremely contagious and potentially dangerous virus. Your children’s physical attendance at Yeshiva Har Torah, and on busing to and from school, is your decision and could increase the risk of you, your children, or other family members contracting COVID-19.

By submitting the daily health screening form/app you agree to abide by the policies set forth on the YHT Reopening Information Page, including this Waiver, Release and Indemnification Agreement, including agreeing as follows:

“I, on behalf of myself, my children and my other family members:

  1. assume the full risk of loss, disability, injury and death to myself, my children and other family members as a result of COVID-19, and

  2. to the maximum extent permitted by law, I hereby release, indemnify and hold harmless Yeshiva Har Torah, its directors, administrators, teachers, and other staff members from any and all claims, losses, or liability, in connection with any loss, disability, injury or death to myself, my children and other family members as a result of COVID-19,

notwithstanding that any such loss, disability, injury or death may have arisen out of the actions or omissions (except for gross negligence or willful misconduct) of Yeshiva Har Torah, its directors, administrators, teachers, or other staff members in connection with my children’s physical attendance at Yeshiva Har Torah, or on busing to or from school.”

Podcast Accompanying Release Of This Site

With thanks to the UJA-Federation of New York for providing critical funds to help reopen.