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Thousands of parents vow to keep kids home for now

Many schools to stay shut Sunday despite green light, citing government disarray

Hours before classes set to start, Education Ministry yet to release official guidelines to teachers, students; Arab officials say community’s schools won’t open at all this week

A parent helps prepare a classroom for the reopening of an elementary school in Tel Aviv, April 30, 2020 (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
A parent helps prepare a classroom for the reopening of an elementary school in Tel Aviv, April 30, 2020 (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Schools were set to partially reopen throughout the country Sunday, but numerous cities and local authorities have said they would delay a return to classrooms amid growing dissatisfaction over the government’s handling of the matter.

Some nine hours before bells were to ring for grades one through three, as well as for 11th and 12th graders, to hold their first classes in nearly two months, the Education Ministry had yet to release official health maintenance guidelines for teachers and students to prevent coronavirus infections.

Among towns saying they would not open schools Sunday were Tel Aviv, Ramat Gan, Beersheba, Ramat Hasharon, Bnei Brak, parts of Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh, Rehovot, Safed, Karmiel, Kiryat Malachi and Kiryat Gat.

The Education Ministry has said municipalities must reopen schools by Tuesday. While some local authorities said they would resume studies on Monday or Tuesday, others made no such promises.

And following a Saturday night meeting, local Arab leaders defied the ministry, saying the entire Arab community would not reopen schools this week at all. They said infections in the Arab community were still higher than in Jewish towns, and cited logistical difficulties in properly preparing to reopen under limitations.

Many local leaders have criticized the last-minute decision to open schools, which was only made Friday, saying it did not allow them to safely reopen in time, while lambasting the lack of clear guidelines even on Saturday night.

An empty classroom at an elementary school in Tel Aviv, April 30, 2020 (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Channel 12 reported that thousands of parents throughout the country have signed petitions vowing not to send their kids back to class until they are satisfied that there are clear, enforceable guidelines to keep their children safe.

An unnamed Education Ministry official speaking to Channel 12 Saturday evening blamed the Health Ministry for the chaotic roll-out, saying the ministry had dragged its feet in approving measures, failing to agree on clear instructions to schools in advance while at times making unrealistic demands it then walked back.

In principle, Sunday is to see grades one through three return to studies for five hours a day, five days a week, with up to 17 children in a classroom; 11th and 12th graders will also return to classes; special education classes and at-risk students will fully resume studies.

In ultra-Orthodox schools, students in grades 7-12 will all head back to the classroom.

The remainder of students are expected to go back to school by June 1, and are to continue with remote learning in the meantime.

Meanwhile, preschools, daycares and kindergartens were only expected to reopen on May 10 after an assessment of the situation.

The Kan public broadcaster reported Saturday that an internal report seen by the National Security Council has assessed that reopening schools could increase infections by some 20 percent within a month.

Education Minister Rafi Peretz attends a Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, December 23, 2019. (Flash90)

The report said reopening only the lower classes would keep infection rates lower, while claiming that reopening preschools and kindergartens would have a minor effect on infection rates.

Among the first mayors to respond to the government decision on schools Friday was Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who said: “Our schools and kindergartens are clean and the teams are ready, but we will not go by rules set by people who do not act responsibly.

“I can promise parents that just as we knew how to reopen special education classes we will know how to re-operate the entire municipal education system, but only after we take steps to ensure the children’s safety. I am the one who is responsible for them at the end of the day.”

Huldai later told Channel 12 he’d “lost faith” in the national authorities who ordered the partial return to school.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai attends the annual international Municipal Innovation Conference in Tel Aviv February 19, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Ramat Gan Mayor Carmel Shama-Hacohen was also critical of the hasty timetable, saying that the decision is “disconnected from reality on the ground” and that his city will open schools only when all problems have been solved.

The chairman of the Knesset Education Committee Nitzan Horowitz, meanwhile, attacked the decision. 

“Bibi is playing yo-yo with the education system,” said the Meretz chief, referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by his nickname. “Instead of taking a thought-out decision with serious preparatory work, everything is done on the fly. It has been obvious for weeks that the lower grades can return to school along with those taking the matriculation exams, in small groups… the foot-dragging until the last minute has prevented the education system from preparing itself.”

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