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MK says allowing bigger groups could 'save the school year'

Knesset rejects ‘illogical’ outdoor studies plan, causing PM to reconsider

Education Committee unanimously shoots down proposal to only allow groups of 15 for grades 5-12 with 100-meter distance between groups, saying it’s too stringent

The Knesset Education Culture and Sports Committee convenes in Jerusalem on October 28, 2020. (Ronit Gal/Knesset)
The Knesset Education Culture and Sports Committee convenes in Jerusalem on October 28, 2020. (Ronit Gal/Knesset)

A Knesset panel voted Wednesday to shoot down a government plan to allow outdoor studies for grades 5-12 while schools are shut, saying the current terms of the plan were too stringent and prompting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to say he is mulling improvements to it.

The Health Ministry has okayed outdoor studies for groups of up to 15 people with a distance of 100 meters (328 feet) between groups.

But the Education, Culture and Sports Committee unanimously rejected that, with most of its members calling for allowing groups of 20 and a distance of 50 meters (164 feet) between groups. Likud MK Uzi Dayan was the only committee member to support leaving the distance at 100 meters.

“The regulations suggested by the government are illogical,” said Committee chairman Ram Shefa of the Blue and White party. “No professional has managed to explain why the groups are being limited to 15 each. The Education Ministry also couldn’t explain it during this morning’s meeting.

“Rewriting the regulations would enable more hours of study for students and save the school year,” he argued.

Following the decision, Netanyahu said changes were being considered.

“Tomorrow we will discuss the exit strategy at the coronavirus cabinet, and I am discussing improvements to the education plan with the Education Ministry and local authorities, checking various options,” the premier said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Israeli kids on the first day of the school year in Mevo Horon on September 1, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

Ministers in the so-called coronavirus cabinet on Monday night approved the reopening of schools for children in first to fourth grade early next week, as well as the lifting of a series of other restrictions aimed at containing the pandemic.

Under the plan given the final okay by ministers, children in third and fourth grade will be divided into pods and resume studies five days a week, while those in first and second grade will be split into two groups that will alternate days and go to school only three times a week. Children in fifth grade and above will continue remote learning.

Schools have been closed since September 18, when the nationwide lockdown came into force to drive down infection rates, though preschools and daycares were permitted to reopen last week. The reopening of the school system on September 1 has been partially blamed for a huge spike in virus cases several weeks later that led to the lockdown.

Though schools nationwide have been officially shut due to virus restrictions, hundreds of ultra-Orthodox elementary and high school yeshivas — including in high-infection areas — opened last Sunday in defiance of the law at the order of a senior rabbi, with many ultra-Orthodox officials justifying the move and police only sporadically enforcing the restrictions.

Following the initial coronavirus lockdown in the spring, health officials abandoned their staged plan amid pressure from ministers and opened nearly all schools and businesses at once in early May. That move has been blamed for playing a part in runaway infection rates over the summer that led to the second national lockdown.

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