ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 143

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Limited in-person classes held in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, as ministry tightens rules

Education Ministry revisits earlier decision that schools in much of the country would continue as normal, instead saying only those with adequate staff, shelters can open doors

Gavriel Fiske is a reporter at The Times of Israel

File: Keshet high school students take their mathematics matriculation examination (Bagrut), in Tel Aviv, June 29, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
File: Keshet high school students take their mathematics matriculation examination (Bagrut), in Tel Aviv, June 29, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Schools in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, among other cities, are returning this week to partial operations, the Home Front Command announced on Saturday, walking back a broader allowance last week.

Schools in these areas will now only be able to hold classes in person if the school facilities meet certain security criteria, including access to bomb shelters with enough capacity to hold all students, and enough on-site staff.

In many cases this has meant a combination of distance-learning with in-person school activities, something the Education Ministry has left up to individual schools and locales to decide how to implement.

The directive comes in a reassessment of the situation following an announcement last week that regular, in-person schooling would resume for most of Israel, despite the wartime situation. The Education Ministry has been revisiting its guidelines every few days.

On Sunday morning, air raid sirens sounded in much of the center of the country during school hours, including Tel Aviv, Ra’anana, Herzliya, Rishon Lezion and other cities.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai had said Friday that he would not act in accordance with last week’s Home Front Command decision, saying: “It’s impossible to return to a normally functioning education system under sirens and rocket fire.”

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

Under the current rules, released on Saturday evening and in effect only until Monday at 5 p.m., the limited educational framework applies to schools in the central Negev, the Judean foothills, Jerusalem, Yarkon, Dan, Sharon, Golan and areas along the Lebanese border. This includes Tel Aviv and much of the heavily populated center of the country.

Areas around the Gaza envelope, including Ashdod, are prohibited from in-person educational activities. In all other locales, including most of the Negev, the Haifa area and the Galilee, regular in-person school can proceed as usual.

Since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war, the Education Ministry, in conjunction with the Home Front Command, has released a series of directives indicating what kind of school would be allowed in each area, based on a changing, location-based color-coded system. Each directive typically has a duration of two or three days, and then the security situation is reassessed again.

A significant number of teachers, staff and parents have been called up for reserve duty, leaving schools with less resources in general. In addition the system is grappling with the large numbers of citizens who have been internally displaced or evacuated because of the war.

Last week, the Education Ministry announced it was setting up several new schools in Eilat, the Negev and the Dead Sea areas in order to serve the evacuee students who have temporarily settled in those regions.

The ministry has also announced a delay in the matriculation exams taken by 11th and 12th graders as part of the high school graduation process.

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