Education minister says he’ll push to open all grades starting next week

Yoav Gallant vows to lobby for schools to reopen for grades 7-10; 5th-6th graders heading back to school Tuesday, followed a week later by 11th-12th graders

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Yoav Gallant visit Israeli kids at the Tali Bait Vegan elementary school  in Jerusalem, on September 05, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Yoav Gallant visit Israeli kids at the Tali Bait Vegan elementary school in Jerusalem, on September 05, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Education Minister Yoav Gallant said he will demand the government reopen 7th-10th grades from next week during the Monday evening meeting of the high-level coronavirus cabinet.

Since the government began lifting the lockdown restrictions imposed in mid-September, grades 1-4 returned to class, with grades 5-6 expected to join them on Tuesday, and grades 11-12 following next Tuesday. Grades 7-10 are continuing distanced learning.

“Students of grades 7, 8, 9, 10 — we have not forgotten you. This evening I will demand in the coronavirus cabinet to bring you back to school starting next week,” tweeted Gallant on Monday, saying it was “on the top of my agenda and that of the Education Ministry.”

The coronavirus cabinet will also discuss the opening of all school grades in low infection areas.

Separately, the daughter of leading ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky said she received instructions from her father ordering Haredi girls’ schools to open. In a letter to principals of the Beis Yaakov schools, Leah Koldetsky wrote that her father ordered them to resume studies for girls, which have been stopped for weeks.

Most ultra-Orthodox schools for boys have been open for weeks in defiance of government regulations, at Kanievsky’s orders.

High school students take a matriculation examination in Yehud, July 8, 2020 (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Health officials had previously raised objections to the swift return of schoolchildren to class as the school system was seen as a major contributor to the spike in cases after an initial lockdown earlier this year was lifted, and that led to the second closure in September.

Gallant has pushed back against the health officials, claiming repeatedly that the education system did not contribute to the rise in infections.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Sunday he supported a return to school for all grades in cities with low infection rates, but only if it is not in concert with other moves easing coronavirus restrictions.

Israel imposed a lockdown on September 18 that succeeded in bringing down surging infection rates but that also paralyzed much of the economy and public life, as well as shuttering the entire education system. The government has since begun lifting the restrictions but health officials have sounded alarms as the drop in infection rates first slowed, and then reversed.

Students at Orot Etzion School, in the Jewish settlement of Efrat, in the West Bank on November 1, 2020 (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Officials, led by Netanyahu and Edelstein, have warned that if the number of daily cases diagnosed is not brought back under control a third lockdown could be looming.

The coronavirus cabinet meeting comes as the average of new daily COVID-19 cases over the past week stood at 742, the highest rate since October 28, according to the country’s military-run coronavirus taskforce.

The transmission rate rose above 1 in the last days of October for the first time since a national lockdown began to be rolled back earlier in the month, and continued to rise before slackening slightly in early November. The figures released Monday, which are based on new case numbers from 10 days earlier due to the virus’s incubation period, showed the figure on the rise again, hitting 1.07.

A transmission rate of over 1 indicates that the case numbers will begin to expand exponentially.

On October 15, the coronavirus cabinet decided that the lockdown exit should only start if the transmission rate is under 0.8. Under the Health Ministry’s plan, rollback measures are supposed to be halted if the rate rises. The government has ignored that benchmark, however, pressing on with reopening schools.

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