Jewish Arab school puts some staff, pupils in quarantine, denies total lockdown
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Jewish Arab school puts some staff, pupils in quarantine, denies total lockdown

After Education Ministry announces entire facility isolated, Max Rayne Hand in Hand School in Jerusalem clarifies only those who visited Bethlehem in past week self-quarantined

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: Arab and Israeli children are seen at the Max Rayne Hand in Hand school for bilingual education in Jerusalem, February 14, 2012. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90/File)
Illustrative: Arab and Israeli children are seen at the Max Rayne Hand in Hand school for bilingual education in Jerusalem, February 14, 2012. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90/File)

A Jewish Arab school in Jerusalem said Monday that some of its staff and pupils were ordered into self-quarantine after they visited Bethlehem in the West Bank over the past week, but stressed that the rest of the school was continuing studies as usual.

Seventy students and 45 staff of the Max Rayne Hand in Hand School in Jerusalem, which fosters Jewish-Arab coexistence and teaches in Arabic and Hebrew, made the trip to the nearby West Bank city last week.

Israel has ordered anyone who visits the Bethlehem area to self-quarantine for 14 days, when cases of the virus were detected in the city, after a visit by a group of Greek tourists carrying the pathogen.

The Education Ministry initially said in a statement on Monday that all staff and pupils at the school, nearly 700 people, were required to self-quarantine.

But it later said that it was still looking into the matter, after the school said it was not shut down.

“In contrast to the rumors, the school is on a break and is not in quarantine,” read a message from the school, following media reports based on the Education Ministry statement.

“The only pupils and staff who are in quarantine are those who live or visited Bethlehem, Beit Sahour, and Beit Jala in the last 14 days.”

Israeli schools are on break until Thursday for the Purim holiday.

People wearing masks visit the Church of the Nativity, revered as the birthplace of Jesus, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on March 5, 2020. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

The school told parents that it was aware of the media reports, and “they are not correct.” It said that it was receiving updates from the Health Ministry, but stressed that pupils who did not visit Bethlehem were not required to be in quarantine.

Earlier Hebrew media reports cited a statement from the Education Ministry stating that “in accordance with instructions from the Health Ministry,” 696 staff and pupils at the Hand in Hand school were instructed to self-quarantine, after 45 members of staff and some 70 pupils were in Bethlehem last week.

Last week, the Health Ministry instructed all 1,150 students at a high school in the Tel Aviv area, plus the members of an elementary school class in a different school, to self-quarantine at home, after a teen and a fifth-grade teacher were diagnosed with the coronavirus.

An Education Ministry spokesperson later clarified that about 70 pupils and 40 staff members were to go into home quarantine. The ministry said it was working with the school administration to determine if any other pupils or staff had recently visited the Bethlehem area and if so, what measures need to be taken.

A Palestinian policeman delivers supplies to a hotel where staff tested positive for coronavirus in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, March 6, 2020. (Majdi Mohammed/AP)

The Palestinian city was completely closed off last week, with all entrances and egresses to the area shut down to contain the spread of the disease. Streets have been empty since the first cases were announced last week, and the Church of the Nativity, built on the grotto where tradition says Christ was born, has been closed to the public.

The epicenter of the outbreak is the Angel hotel, located in Beit Jala, a town on the outskirts of Bethlehem, where a group of Greek tourists who were later found to have contracted the virus had stayed. Fourteen of the 19 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the West Bank are hotel workers.

Fourteen Israelis were added Sunday evening to the list of those who have contracted the coronavirus, including the first in the country whose source of infection was unknown, bringing the total number of cases to 39.

The Hand in Hand School network fosters Jewish-Arab coexistence and teaches in Arabic and Hebrew. It has several schools across the country.

In 2014, three Jewish extremists set fire to the Jerusalem school, causing considerable damage.

The act drew condemnation from politicians across the board, and hundreds rallied in support of the school in the days following the attack. The perpetrators were all sentenced to prison.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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