The Rabbinical Alliance of America — Igud HaRabbonim, representing over 950 American rabbis — calls for the cautious reopening of schools for the new school year, following medical recommendations. Throughout the pandemic, RAA/Igud has called for following the guidance of halachic scholars and leading medical professionals, particularly the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). On July 23, 2020, the CDC issued a report titled “The Importance of Reopening America’s Schools this Fall” which emphasizes the health benefits of opening schools compared to the risks of keeping them closed. Because local conditions differ, every school must follow local medical and legal guidance in order to maintain the safest possible environment. However, within those limitations, RAA/Igud encourages reopening schools wherever possible.
The CDC describes the social and emotional skills that develop within the school framework. Lengthened quarantines correlate to avoidance behavior, anger and post-stress disorders. Schools provide important mental health services and therapies to children and allow for identification of trauma symptoms by school staff. A safe school environment lowers feelings of anxiety and related tragic behaviors. Schools also provide children nutrition and opportunities for physical activity. Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the CDC, testified to Congress on July 23, 2020, “I don’t think I can emphasize it enough, as the director for the Centers for Disease Control, the leading public health agency in the world: it is in the public health interest that these K-12 students get the schools back open for face-to-face learning.”
Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, executive vice president of RAA/Igud, said, “In addition to the health benefits described by the CDC, Torah education is precious. We transmit our precious mesorah, the religious tradition, through education. The Talmud says that you cannot compare the achievements of a child who starts schooling a year earlier to one who starts a year later. Every year, every semester, every day of Torah education is invaluable. We have to be safe and follow medical recommendations in order to prevent further spread of this dangerous virus. Let us help our children move forward in their Torah, social and emotional education.”
Rabbi Aaron Glatt, MD, RAA/Igud’s Director of Halacha and Medicine Commision, said, “We have to recognize from a social point of view, an economic point of view and a spiritual point of view how important it is for children to attend school. We can learn from the experiences in other countries, including Israel, how to open schools in a safe way so the children can experience school in a way that is as close to normal as possible. We must follow science and published medical studies, together with the wisdom of our leading Torah scholars, to guide us forward. In order to serve our children and our communities effectively, parents must partner with schools by following the guidance given by medical and legal authorities.”
Rabbi Dr. Glatt added, “Schools will probably only be allowed to reopen in places where COVID incidence is low. Therefore, people must wear masks now in order to reduce and maintain low levels of COVID so that we can join together in prayer on the High Holidays and our children can return to schools for the new year.”
Rabbi Dr. Glatt recommends the website MaskToProtect.org which provides information and resources about masks, including studies and games for children.