The National Security Council has recommended that the reopening of schools be delayed by a week, as ministers were set to meet Friday morning to make a final decision on the matter.
According to Channel 12 news, an internal document from the National Security Council said that educational institutions, including schools, had not made the preparations necessary to be able to reopen during the pandemic.
The Ynet news site reported that the security body said the Health Ministry has not yet issued a directive to the Education Ministry allowing the latter to formulate a complete preparation plan, and that the disinfection policy requested by health officials cannot be implemented without permanent cleaning teams.
Education Minister Rafi Peretz responded to the reports, saying that “the decision will be made by ministers, and nobody else.”
Officials in the Health Ministry on Thursday evening were pushing to also postpone the reopening of kindergartens and preschools until later in May, as research guiding its policy-making indicated children with COVID-19 were less infectious than adults.
In a briefing with reporters, a senior Health Ministry official said kindergartens should not reopen for another week or two, but elementary schools up to third grade can begin bringing back students on Sunday.
“We’ve seen great results on the national infection map, and we can take this step and wait with kindergartens until the next round, when our [national] health will be a week or two along. The group that is safest to start with are first- to third-graders,” the official said.
Officials fear that young children will be unable to maintain necessary social distancing or hygiene standards, and keeping groups of 15 kids separate from each other, as ordered, will be difficult.
According to the Education Ministry’s plan — released earlier this week — for the resumption of studies on Sunday amid the pandemic, children in first through third grades would return to school five days a week, for five hours a day, with classes capped at 15 students.
Kindergartens and preschools would also reopen, but only for three days per week, with a limited number of children permitted at a time.
Ministers will meet Friday at 10 a.m. to make a final decision on which schools will reopen next week, and will likely favor the Health Ministry’s recommendation over those of the Education Ministry.
Referring to kindergartens, the Health Ministry official said Thursday: “We want them to be in groups of seven children. It’s obvious that whoever doesn’t go back [to school now] will return sometime in May.”
It was not immediately clear if that also referred to children in fourth grade and above, who are continuing remote studies online.
The health official favored a more gradual reopening of the education system, starting only with the lower grades in elementary schools and excluding preschools and kindergartens.
The move to reopen schools came as Israel took its biggest steps toward reopening the economy this week, allowing many non-essential businesses to operate for the first time in a month, as new virus cases and the numbers of seriously ill have steadily declined.
In Israel, where most parents both work full-time, reopening the economy necessitates a solution for younger children who cannot be left unsupervised. The Bank of Israel said last week that the shutdown of the education system was costing the economy around NIS 2.6 billion ($737 million) per week, as many households have had to keep one parent tending to children instead of working.
Schools have been shut since mid-March as the government began imposing wide restrictions on movement in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Most teachers have continued to teach via teleconferencing, though the program has been met with reports of only middling success.
Israel has seen the number of daily cases decline in the past week. As of Friday morning, there have been 223 deaths and 15,946 total confirmed carriers of the virus, most of whom have recovered.
Nathan Jeffay and agencies contributed to this report.