Mayors push plan to reopen all school grades by March 1; health minister opposed

Federation of Local Authorities presents government with proposal that would see students in grades 7-10, the last still at home, return to classroom next week

Illustrative: Fifth-graders return to school in the West Bank settlement of Efrat on February 21, 2021. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Illustrative: Fifth-graders return to school in the West Bank settlement of Efrat on February 21, 2021. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

A group of mayors on Monday presented government ministers with a plan to resume in-person learning next week for all grades.

The proposal by the Federation of Local Authorities would see grades 7-10 return to school on March 1. Students in those grades are the last to remain at home, studying remotely, as part of the pandemic rules. The government has barred them from classrooms until at least March 7.

The plan would only apply to schools in “green” and “yellow” areas with low infection rates, along with some “orange” localities exempted from lockdown restrictions.

It also proposes allowing in-person learning in high infection areas for children whose parents have received COVID-19 vaccines, Channel 12 news reported. Teaching staff would not be required to be vaccinated.

Haim Bibas, mayor of Modiin and chairman of the Federation of Local Authorities. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Modiin Mayor Haim Bibas, who heads the Federation of Local Authorities, told the network that deliberations on the plan were ongoing and that no agreement had been reached with the government.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein issued a statement stressing that no agreements had been reached and expressing opposition to moving up the return of the middle schoolers and high school freshmen and sophomores.

He said more time must pass “to see the consequences in terms of morbidity of opening large parts of the education system and commerce.”

Schools have been largely shuttered in Israel for much of the past year.

On Sunday, grades 5-6 and 11-12 were permitted to resume in-person classes in low-infection cities or medium-infected ones with high rates of vaccination. Kindergartens and grades 1-4 have previously opened in cities designated as low-infection “green” and “yellow” in the government’s color-coding system for morbidity rates.

Fifth-grade students return to school in Efrat, February 21, 2021. (Gershon Elinson/ Flash90)

The loosening of rules came amid a continued decline in morbidity, particularly among high-risk groups, which is largely being credited to Israel’s rapid vaccination campaign.

Infection rates among children and school reopenings are a central concern during Israel’s third-wave virus outbreak. Children represent a larger proportion of infections than earlier in the pandemic, presumably due to the new virus variants and the fact that a significant share of adults have been vaccinated.

The vaccine has not yet been approved for children under 16, although Israel has vaccinated dozens who suffer specific COVID-19 risk factors. No serious side effects have been reported.

On Saturday, Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy said that Israel planned to also vaccinate children once the vaccine was authorized for them, but did not give a timeline.

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