Education Minister Yoav Gallant and Finance Minister Israel Katz agreed on Wednesday to a multi-billion-shekel plan for opening the coming school year on time, despite the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
The NIS 4.2 billion ($1.2 billion) plan was backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and will now be brought to the cabinet for approval.
It calls for daycare centers, kindergartens and the youngest grades in schools to have a full regular program while older grades will be split into “capsules” of up to 18 students, and older students will spend most of the week distance learning.
The Education Ministry said in a statement that “the tight timetable requires implementation of the plan by local authorities, regional education directors, and school principals already from the beginning of next week as a condition for opening the school year on the first of September.”
Channel 13 reported that NIS 2.6 billion ($762 million) will be diverted to covering the cost of boosting manpower to enable classes to be split into smaller capsules as necessary. A further NIS 1.2 billion ($351 million) will be used to improve the distance learning infrastructure that forms a key part of the plan for older grades. Gallant has previously said the ministry is striving to ensure that every school student in the country has access to distance learning, which is not currently the case.
The rest of the budget package will be for hygiene and protective equipment, support programs for weaker sectors of the population, and information services, the Channel 13 report said.
Katz tweeted, “In general I want the school year to open and in particular for younger children, which is a condition for the proper operation of the national economy. We must enable parents to go out and work and enable the economy to return to the broadest operation possible.”
Under the plan, kindergartens and grades 1-2 will operate with normal group sizes and not under the so-called “capsule system” of smaller fixed groups.
Students in grades 3-4 will learn in classes capped at 18 students, with students divided into capsules to keep numbers below the limits. Grades 5-12 will study via distance learning for most of the week and only attend classes, limited in size to 18 participants, twice a week.
The plan is a step down from an initial Health Ministry demand that even the youngest grades and kindergartens be divided into groups of just 18 children. It apparently came in light of data showing relatively low infection rates for small children.
Channel 13 reported that the National Parent Leadership organization filed a request with incoming Education Ministry director-general Amit Edri asking that he work to advance a program that will reduce parent fees immediately and entirely cancel them within five years.
Schools were closed in mid-March to stem the spread of the virus, but almost all classes were okayed to return by the second week of May, in a move that some policy experts have blamed for the resurgence of the virus in recent weeks. The government eventually clamped down on high school classes at the end of the school year, but has taken few steps to close or limit schools since then, allowing summer school to continue for lower grades and kindergartens.