More students return to school as education system set to kick into full gear

Daycare, kindergarten, grades 1-3, 11-12 resume full studies in most of country; grades 4-10 to return over next 2 days; officials urge rethinking face masks, currently obligatory

Israeli students and teachers wear protective face masks as they return to school, at Hashalom School in Mevasseret Zion, near Jerusalem, May 17, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli students and teachers wear protective face masks as they return to school, at Hashalom School in Mevasseret Zion, near Jerusalem, May 17, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel ramped up the reopening of its education system Sunday morning with private daycares, kindergartens, and grades 1-3 and 11-12 resuming full-time classroom activities in most municipalities and grades 4-10 set to return to lessons by Tuesday — except in areas that have been centers of outbreaks.

The reopening comes after over two months in which Israeli children spent most of their time at home in a bid to contain the spread of coronavirus in the country. Grades 1-3 and 11-12 had previously resumed partial studies.

After-school programs, which stretch the school day to approximately 4:30-5 p.m. were also returning across the country.

However, each municipality was free to decide the details of the return to school. In Jerusalem, for example, grades 1-3 resumed full studies Sunday, with grades 4-12 to return Monday. In Tel Aviv and many other central Israel cities, grades 1-3 and 11-12 resumed full studies Sunday, with grades 4-10 joining them on Tuesday. Other municipalities, such as Modiin, Yavne, Ma’ale Adumim and Mevasseret Zion, resumed full studies Sunday for all grades.

The former virus hotspots where schools are not resuming for the time being are Bnei Brak, Deir al-Asad, Hura and Bi’ina, as well as several predominantly ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh and Netivot.

Israeli students and teachers wear protective face masks as they return to school, at Hashalom School in Mevaseret Zion, near Jerusalem, May 17, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to the plan approved on Thursday by the government, schools will enforce hygiene rules such as washing hands, and every pupil will have to present a document saying they are healthy upon arrival at school.

All pupils will be required to wear face masks during recess in open areas, and those in grades 4-12 will also wear them in class. Classroom windows will remain open at all times.

Pupils will also have to keep a two-meter distance from one another during lunch breaks, with schools and kindergartens required to hold most of their activities in places that allow for the mandatory distance to be maintained.

Students will go for breaks between classes in smaller groups, not all at the same time.

The Education Ministry on Sunday asked the Health Ministry to reconsider the mandatory wearing of face masks for grades 4-10 during classes, after some officials voiced skepticism that the guidelines could be adhered to, particularly as Israel experiences a heatwave this week.

“I don’t know how a kid is expected to sit and study with a face mask in the intense heat and in a crowded classroom,” an elementary school principal in northern Israel was quoted as saying by the Makor Rishon newspaper. “There is clearly no chance of that happening. Even if we want to enforce that, we can’t.”

Illustrative: Israeli students wear protective face masks as they return to school for the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus on May 3, 2020 in Jerusalem. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The school year will run through July 13. It is not yet clear what the summer programs may look like.

The government said that any educational framework in which illness is discovered will be shut immediately.

On Friday, officials said that a teacher at the Navon school in the central city of Rehovot had been diagnosed with coronavirus and found to have been in contact with 52 students and the school staff. All were sent into isolation. The school will be shut until May 27, the school’s principal informed parents.

The return to school is yet another step toward the full reopening of the economy as parents can return to work full-time. Last month, the Bank of Israel said that the shutdown of the education system, which went into effect mid-March, was costing the economy around NIS 2.6 billion per week.

Amid the sustained drop in infections, the government has increasingly rolled back restrictions meant to curb the outbreak. More such measures are reportedly in the works.

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