Schools could gradually resume after Passover, starting with special ed students

Schools could gradually resume after Passover, starting with special ed students

Education Ministry wants to return kids in shifts or alternating days, but plan hasn’t yet gotten Health Ministry approval as Teachers’ Union warns step premature

An illustrative photo of a student outside Hadar Elementary School in Kfar Yona, on March 12, 2020. (Chen Leopold/Flash90)
An illustrative photo of a student outside Hadar Elementary School in Kfar Yona, on March 12, 2020. (Chen Leopold/Flash90)

The Education Ministry is planning to gradually bring children back to school after the Passover holiday in a staggered approach, a ministry official said Tuesday.

The official had told the Knesset Education Committee as well as Hebrew-language media that studies would take place in “shifts,” with children divided into morning and afternoon groups of eight to 10 kids each or coming to school on alternate days.

The first to return to school, on April 17, will be the 53,000 children who learn in separate kindergartens and schools for those with special needs.

For some 50,000 more special education students who study in separate classes in regular schools, studies will not immediately resume.

The second phase will bring back to school those who attend institutions for at-risk youth. They will be followed by preschools, then elementary schools, then middle schools and high schools, and finally informal education programs.

Education Ministry director-general Shmuel Abuav, left, and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, at a press conference in Jerusalem, January 8, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Education Ministry Director-General Shmuel Abuav was quoted by The Marker news site as saying every student returning to school would come three days a week for four hours at a time.

However, the plan had yet to receive an approval from the Health Ministry, whose director-general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov told Channel 12 Tuesday that schools would resume only if the number of daily new cases drops significantly.

He said that if in the next few weeks the country sees a drop in new coronavirus cases, from hundreds of new cases a day to dozens, the government would be able to raise the workforce allowed to work outside the home from 15 percent to 30% and permit people to once again venture out more than 100 meters from their homes.

He added if numbers remained low after that, a phased return to school would be possible.

Teachers’ Union Secretary General Yaffa Ben-David has reportedly urged the Health Ministry to reconsider any return to school for special education students, arguing that it would be extremely hard to prevent coronavirus infection since the institutions are crowded and the kids require close contact and care.

She also said many of the students have compromised immune systems, putting them at risk in the event they contract COVID-19, and that there wouldn’t be adequate gear to protect the staff.

On the other hand, the chairman of the Israeli Society for Autistic Children, Amos Shapira, said families have been “collapsing” by having the kids out of school for so long, warning that it was a matter of time before the “pressure cooker” situation began claiming victims.

Schools in Israel haven’t been operating since March 12 as part of sweeping curbs on public life to stem the outbreak of the coronavirus.

A closed school in the northern Israeli city of Tzfat, March 13, 2020, as part of preventive measures amid fears over the spread of the coronavirus. (David Cohen/Flash90)

A nationwide closure came into effect at 7 p.m. Tuesday, banning all intercity traffic until Friday at 6 a.m. Supermarkets, food deliveries and other essential services will, however, continue to operate until Wednesday afternoon at 3 p.m., and then be allowed to resume Thursday morning.

In a tighter curfew, which coincides with the Passover Seder, from Wednesday at 3 p.m. until Thursday at 7 a.m., Israelis will be banned from venturing out farther than 100 meters from their homes and all businesses in the country will be shut.

From Thursday morning until Friday, Israelis will again be permitted to move within their cities and towns for essential needs, but not to leave city limits. Exceptions will be made for those who do not have supermarkets and pharmacies in their towns, but they may go only to the nearest town with the services.

Jerusalem residents are confined throughout the lockdown and curfew within the city zone they live in, after government officials sketched out a division of the city — which has the largest number of virus cases in the country — into seven portions.

A map provided by the Health Ministry divides Jerusalem into seven regions. Residents are not permitted to leave their region from Tuesday evening until Friday morning (Health Ministry)

The curfew measure does not extend to Arab towns, where Passover is not celebrated.

The measures are designed to keep Israelis from attempting to spend the festive Passover Seder meal on Wednesday night with relatives or others, which officials fear could lead to a fresh wave of infections and push Israel backwards just as initial signs of recovery have started to emerge.

As of Tuesday, 61 people have died from the virus, which has infected just over 9,000.

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