When a Jewish Day School Closes Days Before Start of Classes

Chaos and Angst When N.J. Schechter School Abruptly Shut

Open and Shut: Seven-year-old Lucas Ludvig, left, and his friend Elan Ronen were forced to find new schools after the Solomon Schechter School of the Raritan Valley abruptly announced it would not reopen this fall.
courtesy of karen e.h. skinazi
Open and Shut: Seven-year-old Lucas Ludvig, left, and his friend Elan Ronen were forced to find new schools after the Solomon Schechter School of the Raritan Valley abruptly announced it would not reopen this fall.

By Karen E.H. Skinazi

Published August 23, 2013, issue of August 30, 2013.
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It’s not that I didn’t see the email — not that I didn’t remark on its odd urgency — but I can’t say I did anything other than remark on it when I saw it. I was preoccupied with getting my own start-of-semester prepared. I had to order books, revise my syllabus, arrange for a film screening — the usual.

Other parents, apparently recognizing that this was not your typical Here’s-the-updated-calendar or School-supply-lists-can-be-found-here email, thought to ask what the hell was going on.

The next morning — Wednesday, August 7 — a second email arrived in my inbox.

“Dear Parents,” it read, “I would like to apologize for the cryptic nature of the email that I sent about tomorrow’s parents’ meeting. I should have realized how unsettling it would be to receive such a message without any details…. Unfortunately, I have to confirm what is, for all of us, the worst possible news for our school. Based on our current financial situation, the Board has voted to begin the process of closing down the school, effective immediately.”

I read the email three times, thinking I must be misreading it. I tried to call my husband, but I have no cell reception in my office, so I ran down the hallway frantically, yelling: “The school is closing! The school is closing!” When I got outside, I tried again, but somehow he still couldn’t hear me. I switched to texting, which was even less effective. “What school? Princeton?” he asked. Now that would be lousy, seeing as it employs both of us. Also, just a wee bit unrealistic, what with its $17 billion endowment, almost 300-year history and 7% acceptance rate. “Boys!” I typed. I have a phone from the 20th century, the kind that requires I click the mno button three times to get the “o” in boys. It’s laborious. He texted back, “But the boys are in camp.”

The back-and-forth between my husband and me was the very beginning of what seemed to be an endless series of communications and miscommunications to take place over the next week. First, the school was closed “effective immediately.” Emails began pouring in about other Solomon Schechter options. One Schechter, 20 minutes farther away from us (our school was already 35 minutes from our house — without traffic), was inviting our students to come; it would honor all financial aid packages and also offer free busing. Then, a second Schechter piped up with a near-identical offer. That school is more than an hour from our house. There was something vulturelike about the way the schools were quickly moving in on the displaced students, but we all understood: Here, in suburbia, we weren’t competing to get into the Jewish schools — the Jewish schools were competing for us.

Personally, I gave myself a day of mourning, and then I began to make my phone calls.

That Friday, I found a Jewish school across state lines. “Hi there,” I said. “I’m in the market for a new school. Do you do gifted and talented?”

“Of course,” the head of school replied. “This is a Jewish school. I’m told all our kids are gifted and talented.”


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