In-person schooling resumes across much of Israel on Wednesday

Tel Aviv to keep schools closed until end of week despite option to resume normal activities, while educational institutions along northern border subject to restrictions

Reserve IDF soldiers training at a school in the Golan Heights, on October 19, 2023. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)
Reserve IDF soldiers training at a school in the Golan Heights, on October 19, 2023. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

Schools throughout much of Israel were able to open as normal starting on Wednesday, including those in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, according to new guidelines from the IDF Home Front Command released Tuesday evening. As a result of the war against Hamas, educational institutions in these areas had shifted to a combination of distance learning and in-person activity, depending on access to bomb shelters and staffing.

The new directive sees the school system resume regular activity across most of the country, but excludes Gaza border communities, Ashkelon, Ashdod and the Western Negev, where in-person learning is still forbidden.

On the northern border, educational activities may resume in a restricted capacity, with the Home Front Command directive stating that classes must be held inside a sheltered safe room and subject to guidelines of the IDF Northern Command.

The directive is currently in place until Thursday, October 26 at 6 p.m.

After the Home Front Command order was issued, the Tel Aviv municipality announced it will only allow schools with adequate shelters to re-open for in-person learning. However, the Jerusalem Municipality said it would open schools normally on Wednesday.

According to a report published Tuesday by the Ynet news site, some 20 percent of schools in the country do not have adequate bomb shelters for all their students and staff.

Since the Israel-Hamas war began 18 days ago, the Education Ministry, in conjunction with Home Front Command, has issued a series of directives implementing distance-learning and/or in-person school activities in various locations, in a color-coded system which has changed as the security situation has developed.

While the new directive aims to restore a sense of normalcy, the education system nationwide is dealing with many parents and staff members who have been called up for IDF reserve duty and entire communities uprooted and traumatized, all while much of the country remains under the threat of rocket fire.

Israeli children inside a public bomb shelter in the southern city of Ashkelon, October 8, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

The entire educational system is still suffering from a staff shortage caused by the massive call-up of IDF reservists, and dealing with tens of thousands of displaced students, who have been evacuated from communities around Gaza and along the Lebanon border.

Around 200,000 citizens have been displaced or evacuated from Gaza-adjacent communities as well as from the north of Israel, including residents of the cities of Sderot, Ofakim and Kiryat Shmona.

In Eilat, where school has continued as normal due to the relative safety from Hamas rocket fire, the school system has doubled in size due to the influx of students, Education Minister Yoav Kisch said at a press conference on Monday. As a result, the schools are operating in shifts, with morning and afternoon classes, in order to accommodate the increase.

Meanwhile, Israel’s higher education system continues to push back the start date for the 2023-2024 academic year, due to the high number of students and professors who have been called up for reserve duty by the IDF.

As a result, university students were notified on Tuesday that the semester will not start until December 3, at the earliest.

“The opening of the academic year will be postponed given the war situation and the high percentage of draftees into the reserves among both students and faculty members,” the Hebrew University of Jerusalem wrote in a statement sent out to students on Tuesday morning.

“Two weeks’ notice will be given before the start of the semester to allow everyone to return to routine and the academic track, at the end of which studies will begin.”

While the universities stressed they intend to open for a full academic year with two semesters, they confirmed doing so would likely mean the semesters would be shorter than usual, with shorter exam periods and classes continuing well into the summer months.

“There is no doubt that all of us, faculty and students alike, should change our plans for next summer,” Hebrew University said.

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