The JCC preschool in Deal closed abruptly Dec. 2, leaving teachers in a scramble to notify parents and parents in search of an alternative.
The decision to close the Center Play School in Deal, which served the community for nearly 50 years, came as administrators sought to save the financially strapped Ruth Hyman JCC.
The JCC filed for bankruptcy on Dec. 5.
Shortly after 1 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 2, JCC president Stephen Levy notified CPS director Inna Shepard by e-mail that the preschool doors would close for good at 3 p.m. on the same day.
In a scene many CPS parents described as “chaotic,” the staff scrambled to notify parents and say goodbye to preschoolers. The school served 50 children, from infants to kindergartners.
“Many parents and teachers were weeping. The children didn’t understand what was going on. To give teachers, many of whom dedicated their life to CPS, such short notice is just abominable,” said parent Lee Walash Subai of Toms River, whose son was in the school’s kindergarten. “From a humane, moral, Jewish perspective, this was just not right.”
Parents Yoav and Kim Mejer of Elberon said the sudden closing left them scrambling for a backup plan for their child.
“It’s difficult to express the level of anger that we feel, particularly as two working parents who count on the services they provide,” Yoav Mejer said. “It was a slap in the face.”
Levy told NJJN that the decision to close the school was extremely difficult, but one that could not be avoided. The school was operating at a significant loss each month, and payroll for December could not be met, he said.
“It wasn’t the most opportune way of doing it, but I was under the gun and needed to draw a line,” he said. “I have a longtime relationship with CPS; my son attended the program from age two to kindergarten. It was a very hard decision to make but it had to be made.”
“I have a fiduciary responsibility to the teachers and the parents,” Levy added. “I couldn’t bill the parents knowing we couldn’t meet the payroll, and I couldn’t ask the teachers to work without pay anymore.”
Levy said he told parents on Friday that the JCC could keep the classrooms open through Dec. 23 if CPS parents wanted to arrange for volunteer teachers. The parents did not take up the extension offer.
However, teachers did volunteer to come in on Monday for a day of closure, holding farewell parties for the students in the classrooms and giving students a chance to say goodbye to their teachers and classmates.
“The dedication, compassion, and loving-kindness the teachers have shown throughout the process are to be commended,” said Subai. “They have been nothing but wonderful to our children.”
Rabbi Aaron Schonbrun of Ocean Township, religious leader of Congregation Torat-El in Oakhurst and father of three CPS children, said, “It’s very sad that everything ended in such an abrupt way right before Shabbat. It was very sudden and jarring and difficult for children and their teachers.”
He added, “I want to thank the teachers and staff who went above and beyond and had the best interests of our children at heart.”
Leaders of the JCC are hoping to recover after a string of financial setbacks in recent years. TD Bank initiated foreclosure on the facility last spring and a Monmouth County Sheriff’s sale of the property was scheduled for the end of October and then postponed. The chapter 11 bankruptcy will permit the JCC, including its Axelrod Performing Arts Center, to remain open while it reconfigures its finances.
Earlier this year, the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County made a grant to CPS and several other programs at the JCC and last year gave a significant loan to the JCC to help with its ongoing financial difficulties, federation executive director Keith Krivitzky said.
“We have been endeavoring to communicate as often and as thoroughly as possible and have been encouraging them to take steps to address their issues and communicate with constituents in a timely fashion.”
Federation president Joseph Hollander said his organization is continuing to facilitate efforts to help the JCC.
“There are a number of constituents in the JCC community that are still talking to see if they can find a way to collectively solve this problem. From the point of view of federation, we currently support efforts to maintain the JCC as a facility for the Jewish community,” Hollander said.