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Defying government, 17 cities prepare to reopen classes for grades 7-10

Municipalities including Tel Aviv, Haifa say classes to restart Wednesday in light of ‘severe educational, social, psychological impact’ of missing lessons; teachers oppose plan

Fifth-grade students return to school in Efrat, February 21, 2021. (Gershon Elinson/ Flash90)
Fifth-grade students return to school in Efrat, February 21, 2021. (Gershon Elinson/ Flash90)

Seventeen local authorities — including Tel Aviv and Haifa — announced Sunday that they will resume in-person classes later this week for grades 7-10, in defiance of government orders.

The middle schoolers and high school freshmen and sophomores are the last age group to remain at home, studying remotely, as part of the pandemic rules.

The cities that intend to flout the order and resume classes on Wednesday include Ashdod, Beersheba, Givatayim, Herzliya, Hadera, Holon, Haifa, Kfar Saba, Netanya, Petah Tikva, Rishon Lezion, Rehovot, Ramat Gan, Ra’anana, and Tel Aviv-Jaffa. They are home to about half the population of the country.

The government has barred the students from classrooms until at least March 9. Schools have been largely shuttered in Israel for much of the past year.

The local authorities said in a statement they had decided to open “in light of the ongoing absence of these students from schools, and the severe educational, social and psychological impact.”

The mayors of the 17 localities had convened to make the decision on Sunday, the statement said.

Students in those areas are set to attend class at least twice a week, for four hours each day, or three times a week for three hours, according to Ynet.

The mayors said they will not pressure teaching staff to work if they do not want to.

The Teachers’ Union opposed the move, saying, “The sole employer of teaching staff in Israel is the Education Ministry, and only it has the authority to decide on openings and closings in the education system.”

Israel has been cautiously stepping out of its third-wave virus outbreak, including with a major relaxation of restrictions on Sunday, including for some schools.

Grades 5-6 and 11-12 were permitted to resume in-person classes in low-infection cities or medium-infected ones with high rates of vaccination. Kindergartens and grades 1-4 have previously opened in cities designated as low-infection “green” and “yellow” in the government’s color-coding system for morbidity rates.

The loosening of rules came amid a continued decline in morbidity, particularly among high-risk groups, which is largely being credited to Israel’s rapid vaccination campaign.

Infection rates among children and school reopenings are a central concern during Israel’s third-wave virus outbreak. Children represent a larger proportion of infections than earlier in the pandemic, possibly due to the new virus variants and the fact that a significant share of adults have been vaccinated.

The vaccine has not yet been approved for children under 16, although Israel has vaccinated dozens who suffer specific COVID-19 risk factors. No serious side effects were reported.

On Saturday, Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy said that Israel planned to also vaccinate children once the vaccine was authorized for them, but did not give a timeline.

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