Health Ministry said to seek cap on school class sizes, but not for daycares
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Health Ministry said to seek cap on school class sizes, but not for daycares

Health officials will reportedly propose classes with just 18 students, but keep kindergartens at full capacity in light of data showing lower infection rates among young kids

Cleaning workers disinfect a classroom at the Gymnasia Rehavia high school in Jerusalem on June 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
Cleaning workers disinfect a classroom at the Gymnasia Rehavia high school in Jerusalem on June 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

The Health Ministry is reportedly expected on Thursday to present a plan for the opening of the upcoming school year that will reportedly allow daycares to operate at full capacity, in light of data showing relatively low infection rates for small children, but cap class sizes for older students.

Ministers were set to reassess on Thursday whether summer schools will continue to operate after last week the government threatened to cancel them in an effort to curb the virus spread.

The Health Ministry’s reported plan comes after the Education Ministry presented data showing that the infection rate among those attending summer educational programs is lower than the national average; however, health officials have said the origin of a significant portion of infections are not known.

According to a Channel 12 report Thursday, the Health Ministry will propose that from September 1, children in grades 1-12 will learn in classes capped at 18 students while kindergartens operate with normal group sizes and not under the so-called “capsule system” of smaller, set groups.

Schools would be required to continue to maintain social distancing guidelines and the wearing of masks.

Children and thier teachers at the Gan Nayot kindergarten in Jerusalem as they return to kindergarden on May 10, 2020, for the first time in over 2 months. (Yonatan SIndel/Flash90)

The report did not say how this would practically occur with a lack of classrooms and teachers, but previous reports and statements have suggested that older children will do a significant proportion of their studies online. When schools closed earlier this year, the education system seemed ill-equipped to deal with the challenges of remote learning, with thousands of students without access to computers and the system frequently crashing.

The Health Ministry plan will be presented to the Education Ministry and treasury ahead of a joint budget proposal for the upcoming school year, Channel 12 reported.

The reported Health Ministry plan appeared to be less stringent than the one presented last week by the Education Ministry, which also called for kindergarten sizes to be capped at 18 students.

Last week a kindergarten worker from the central city of Petah Tikva died of COVID-19, the first death of an educator in Israel as a result of the pandemic, two weeks after she sent a message to parents begging them to respect the regulations to stop the spread of the coronavirus after children were allegedly sent to the daycare while they had family members in isolation.

Education Minister Yoav Gallant at a passing the baton ceremony in Jerusalem on May 18 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

According to the Education Ministry plan, most students will learn part of the time remotely online, with high school students only attending classes in person once a week.

Grades 1-4 will have regular classes but with no more than 18 students together in a room.

Kindergartens will be divided into two areas using a partition and funding will be provided for additional support staff.

Education Minister Yoav Gallant said at a press conference that all students will come into school at least once a week.

Setting up the education system to work under the proposed framework will cost NIS 2 billion ($583 million) and a further NIS 1 billion every month after that, Gallant said.

An illustrative photo of kindergarten teachers cleaning a classroom at Emunah daycare in the city of Modiin on May 7, 2020 (Courtesy Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Gallant said Monday that great efforts were being made to enable every student to learn remotely, although he could not yet commit that it is feasible.

“We are working on it in all seriousness,” he said. “[User] end equipment, school infrastructure, content that can be purchased anywhere, as well as training for teachers and principals. This is complex work, we are talking about 2.5 million students and teachers.”

Schools were closed in mid-March, 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.

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