Schools in Tel Aviv permitted by municipality to fully reopen, but not all can

Many students in central Israel have not been in school full-time since September, before the Sukkot holiday

Gavriel Fiske is a reporter at The Times of Israel

File: Keshet high school students take their mathematics matriculation examination (Bagrut), in Tel Aviv, June 29, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
File: Keshet high school students take their mathematics matriculation examination (Bagrut), in Tel Aviv, June 29, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Kindergarten to 12th-grade schools in Tel Aviv have official permission to return to full activity, the municipality said Monday, after more than six weeks of limited studies due to the Israel-Hamas war and repeated rocket attacks on the area.

However, the new directive does not mean that all schools will be open immediately. An initial Sunday statement from the municipality’s Education Department said that full learning would return in some schools only later this week or at the beginning of next week. A subsequent notice from late Tuesday stated that the entire education system in the city would “return to routine” on Sunday, November 26.

The municipality’s declaration on fully opening schools came after the city and the broader Dan central region were reclassified Sunday as “green” areas by Home Front Command.

Under the color-coded system in place since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7, “green” areas are allowed to have in-person educational activities without restrictions, but schools must have designed “safe zones” — besides bomb shelters — where students and staff can gather in the case of a rocket alert.

The Home Front Command has conducted a survey of schools in the Tel Aviv area to find the most protected areas where students and staff are to gather, the municipality said.

There are “a number” of elementary and secondary schools whose most protected areas aren’t large enough to protect a full complement of students and staff in the case of a rocket attack, the city confirmed, adding that municipal authorities are working on the issue.

“The municipality of Tel Aviv-Jaffa operates in accordance with the instructions of the Home Front Command, from a professional educational concept that returning to learning and to a routine, even during a war, strengthens the personal resilience of the city’s students and their families. According to our request, the Home Front Command’s engineering experts have examined all educational buildings and defined the most protected spaces available, apart from the shelter. Each school received a report signed by the Home Front Command and signs will be posted in all schools indicating the most protected spaces available,” the Tel Aviv Municipality said Tuesday in a statement to The Times of Israel.

“There are schools for which the return to full learning is complex since many teaching staff are in the reserves… It is important to note that each school principal is in contact with his community with regular updates on the subject,” the statement continued.

The Education Ministry has given license to individual municipalities and schools to decide for themselves how to schedule their classes during the war, in compliance with the Home Front Command directives.

Previously, Tel Aviv was classified as “yellow,” meaning that in-person learning could occur only within certain security parameters, including having a bomb shelter large enough to hold the students and staff present in school.

Coupled with the staffing shortage caused by the massive call-up of reserve IDF soldiers, in practice many schools in the area were operating on a staggered system, with students able to physically attend school only two or three times a week, with the off-days assigned for distance learning.

According to a Sunday expose in the Hebrew-language business site The Marker, schooling has been erratic throughout the central region since the beginning of the war. Now that many workplaces have returned to normal, parents are in a bind because their children are still unable to attend school every day.

According to one Tel Aviv mother who spoke with The Times of Israel, her daughter attends an older elementary school in the city and there “is no safe space at all” for her to go in the case of a rocket attack. She also said that despite the notice from the municipality, the school did not plan to open as usual.

She said that her children and many others have not been in school full-time since mid-September.

The Tel Aviv-Yafo municipality has said it has allocated NIS 50 million ($13.4 million) toward a project to construct more protected areas in schools, especially in municipal kindergartens, a project expected to be completed in February 2024.

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