Ministers vote to fully reopen schools, scrapping pods, starting Sunday

Health Ministry plan will end distance learning for 5-9 graders, introduce an ‘expansive testing and monitoring system’ at educational institutions

Fifth grade students at the Alumot Elementary School in Efrat, on February 21, 2021 (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Fifth grade students at the Alumot Elementary School in Efrat, on February 21, 2021 (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Cabinet ministers voted Monday night to fully reopen Israeli schools starting next Sunday, ending the requirement that some grades still learn in smaller class sizes.

Children in grades 5-9 were the only remaining students required to study in socially distanced “capsules,” or pods.

The plan, put forth by the Health Ministry, will include an “expansive testing and monitoring system” at educational institutions.

Under the plan, if a child tests positive for the coronavirus, all students and teaching staff in that grade will be tested before returning to the classroom. They will also be subject to quarantine requirements, according to the Health Ministry.

The ministry said the decision to further reopen schools was due to the low infection rates in the country.

“After two weeks of stability in the morbidity figures… including low morbidity among children, it is possible to move forward with opening the education system more broadly,” a ministry statement said.

Illustrative: Students wearing face masks return to school in Yad Mordechai, March 7, 2021. (Flash90)

Education Minister Yoav Gallant hailed the move and said children’s “natural place” was in the classroom.

“The health system finally came to its senses and understood the importance of learning in the class for students and their families,” Gallant wrote on Twitter. “Better late than never.”

Earlier Monday, the Education Ministry reported a 30 percent drop in first- to third-graders’ language and reading skills over the past year and a 25% decline in math and language skills among students in grades 4-6. A ministry official quoted by Haaretz said the figures underlined the need to swiftly reopen all schools to identify learning, social and emotional gaps.

Ministers last week canceled the requirement for fourth graders to study in pods, as well as the requirement for students to present a health declaration signed by their parents to enter the classroom.

Israelis in Tel Aviv on April 11, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israel in recent months has significantly rolled back coronavirus restrictions by opening businesses, event venues, and other activities, as morbidity levels have dropped amid the country’s rapid vaccination drive.

According to the latest Health Ministry figures, released Monday evening, 138 new coronavirus cases were recorded Sunday and another 136 since midnight, with 836,128 total infections confirmed since the pandemic began.

The death toll stood at 6,304.

There were 3,343 active cases, including 250 patients in serious condition, 132 of whom were on ventilators.

Of the 38,952 tests performed Sunday, 0.4% came back positive.

The ministry also said 5,325,058 Israelis have received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose and 4,944,397 have received two shots.

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