Portland Jewish Academy is a beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland and is proud of our partnership with them in strengthening our local Jewish community as well as the global community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Crystal Ball

Steve Albert

In recent days and weeks, I’ve been asked a great deal about my thoughts on what school will look like next fall. On the one hand, circumstances and guidelines change so rapidly that it’s nearly impossible to predict what might happen in even a week or two. On the other hand, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that, by September, things will start to look a lot like “normal.” (Although not entirely!)

For starters, there is a lot of positive news regarding the slowing of the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. Experts estimate that about 40% of Americans have either had the virus, received the vaccine, or both, meaning that we are slowly moving toward herd immunity. Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins, notes, “After millions of infections and the start of a vaccination campaign, the virus is finally, slowly, starting to run out of new people to infect.” The rate of vaccinations is improving and will continue to do so, with the release of the new vaccine by Johnson and Johnson, and President Biden is urging states to begin vaccinating the general public by May 1. Pediatric vaccines are under development, and the LA Times reports that children ages 12-17 will probably start being vaccinated this fall, with younger children following at the start of next year.

In addition, the New York Times reports that the evidence about the variants of the virus are more encouraging than originally expected. Vaccines are eliminating death and hospitalization among those who contract a variant, reinfection is not widespread, and the variants aren’t causing the sorts of surges that were predicted a number of weeks ago.

What about schools? There is abundant and growing evidence that schools that adhere to strict health and safety guidelines related to sanitizing surfaces, wearing masks, and maximizing fresh air in ventilation systems are offering extremely safe environments for children. It’s clear that children can attend school, in-person, with minimal risk. Oregon, in particular, has been more conservative than most states regarding COVID guidance, and the efforts have been largely successful. Multnomah County has just joined Washington and Clackamas counties in being reclassified as “moderate risk,” the second lowest risk level.

As the situation improves, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and Oregon Department of Education (ODE) continue to discuss changes to protocols, some of which may be approved during the current school year and others which will be applicable to next year. Physical distancing guidelines are expected to be modified, increasing the number of students who can share a classroom. Maximum cohort sizes have been increased since the start of the current year, and rules about mixing of cohorts are expected to be loosened to allow for expansion of bus service, extracurricular activities, and after school care. PJA doesn’t plan to change our protocols before the end of the current school year, but by next fall, it is likely that we will adopt new procedures that are aligned with updated guidance from ODE, OHA and the CDC.

So what will next year look like? I’m optimistic. I predict that mask mandates will remain, and that there will be some sort of distancing required. Basic guidance around hand-washing, building sanitation, and increased air flow probably won’t change. I expect that we’ll continue to maximize opportunities to be outdoors, especially in the fall. But, overall, I believe that we’ll see school schedules return to something resembling those of pre-pandemic times, with little, if any, virtual gathering, and specials, extracurricular clubs and activities, sports, and after-school programs returning in some manner. We are most certainly emerging into the light at the end of the tunnel.
 

Spotlight on ...

The Sack Lunch Challenge

On May 22, dozens of PJA families brought boxes and bags full of supplies for some of the most vulnerable populations of Portland. These bags contained sandwiches, fruit, and granola bars. Together, we collected 2500 sack lunches for Blanchet House...

Read More about The Sack Lunch Challenge