Almost all Israeli kids to return to school Sunday as education system reopens
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Almost all Israeli kids to return to school Sunday as education system reopens

PM okays resumption of full operations, with health precautions, for areas that weren’t virus hotspots; plan still requires cabinet approval

Students wear protective face masks as they return to school for the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus on May 3, 2020 in Jerusalem (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Students wear protective face masks as they return to school for the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus on May 3, 2020 in Jerusalem (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The education system is set to return to full operation on Sunday in most of the country, the Prime Minister’s Office announced Thursday, after some two months during which Israeli children were ordered to stay home in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

The statement said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had approved the plan, devised jointly by PMO Director-General Ronen Peretz, the National Security Council, the education, finance and health ministries and local authorities.

The decision came after many local authorities rejected the Education Ministry’s earlier outline for reopening schools, which would have seen 4th- to 10th-graders in their communities return to class only part-time. (Grades 1-3 and 11-12 have already resumed partial studies).

The municipal leaders had said the blanket plan for students to study on intermittent days was ineffective for both students and parents and demanded a return to full studies.

The plan approved Thursday returns all students — aged 0 to 18 — to daycares, kindergartens and schools full-time, except for areas that have been centers of outbreaks in the last two months, some of which have been under lockdown.

Those areas are predominantly, but not exclusively, ultra-Orthodox cities, communities and neighborhoods.

A pupil wears a protective face masks as 1st to 3rd graders retruned to school for the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus, May 3, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The list of outbreak areas will be reexamined and possibly altered shortly before June 1, the statement said.

Schools will enforce hygiene rules such as washing hands, and every pupil will have to present a document saying they are healthy upon arrival at school.

All pupils will be required to wear face masks during recess in open areas, and those in grades 4-12 will also wear them in class.

They will have to keep a two-meter distance from one another during lunch breaks, while schools and kindergartens are required to hold most of their activities in places that allow for the mandatory distance to be maintained.

Students will go for breaks between classes in smaller groups, not all at the same time.

Institutions where a coronavirus patient has been discovered will be closed according to a prearranged procedure.

The statement also said a small team headed by the PMO’s director-general will be formed to prepare the education system for the scenario of a second wave of infections.

Children study at an Ultra-Orthodox school founded by Rabbi Shmuel Stern in Jerusalem on May 6, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Fifteen local authorities, including Tel Aviv and Haifa, last week informed Netanyahu that they would not comply with the Education Ministry’s earlier outline for partial return for grades 4-10, writing in a letter to the premier that “the return outline for students in grades 4-10 does not constitute a return to studies and is not a solution for anyone.”

“The children are not guinea pigs and the parents are looking for real solutions,” said the letter, penned by Haim Bibas and Shai Hajaj, leaders of the Local Government Center, a nonprofit that represents local authorities. “The suggested solutions are unsatisfactory and in the absence of a realistic outline we will not return the 4th to 10th graders to school.”

Israel’s education system was shut down in mid-March, with teachers and pupils switching to remote learning methods instead. As other sectors of society and commerce have been permitted to reopen, there has been increasing pressure from local authorities and parents to restart schools.

The announcement came as Health Ministry figures continued to show no more than a few dozen new infections daily. Israel has taken a series of steps in the last few weeks to begin gradually reopening its economy and rolling back restrictions on movement and small gatherings, with many clamoring for a swifter return to levels of service seen in pre-pandemic days.

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