(JTA) – At least 13 students at a yeshiva in Queens, New York, tested positive for COVID-19 just weeks into the new school year and days before Rosh Hashanah.
Yeshiva Darchei Torah will transition to distance learning temporarily while the Health Department conducts an investigation, according to Politico.
The cases come on the heels of school closures and quarantines of entire classes in several Jewish day schools in the New York area and rising anxiety over an uptick in COVID cases in Orthodox communities. One Orthodox high school in Manhattan shut down for at least two days after four students tested positive.
While the schools hoped to resume in-person learning after finishing the previous school year entirely online, the return to in-person classes has proven difficult in the face of new COVID cases.
A spokesman for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the Queens yeshiva would resume virtual classes while the Health Department conducts an investigation.
“Following discussions with senior City Department of Health officials and the yeshiva leadership, we have proposed moving the school to remote learning for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to complete a health investigation and protect students and staff from COVID transmission, given evidence of cases across multiple age levels,” Bill Neidhardt, a spokesperson for the mayor, told Politico in an email. “The school has significant experience with virtual learning from earlier in the year, and we believe this is the safest approach to track down the cause of over a dozen lab-confirmed COVID cases across the school.”
But when a reporter from Gothamist called the school Tuesday, a woman who answered the phone told the publication the school was still in session.
In a letter to the school community published by 5 Towns Central Tuesday morning, Rabbi Yaakov Bender, head of the yeshiva, said “there is a concern that the Yeshiva may have to close because of a proposal from the City of New York” and said the school was preparing a plan to transition to online learning.
“There is no replacement for in-person learning, which we have been conducting in a safe and efficient manner — in careful adherence to the instructions of world-class infectious disease specialists — since late August,” Bender wrote. “However, our staff is hard at work preparing a plan to transition to virtual learning.”
But by Tuesday afternoon, Bender announced that the schools would close.
“As a result of our discussions with the Department of Health, we will be closing the Yeshiva for several days while they conduct their investigation of the COVID-19 cases at the Yeshiva,” Bender wrote in a second letter published by 5 Towns Central.
This story has been updated to include information about the school’s continued operation on Tuesday and subsequent decision to close.