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Teachers’ unions blast COVID-19 test requirement for schoolkids after Sukkot

Union chief says it isn’t educators’ job to be ‘coronavirus inspectors,’ threatens High Court appeal over new measure; only half of teachers in Israel have had vaccine booster

Kids at a school in Tel Aviv hold up antigen coronavirus testing kits, on August 30, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Kids at a school in Tel Aviv hold up antigen coronavirus testing kits, on August 30, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Unions representing both school and kindergarten teachers have slammed a Sunday decision by lawmakers requiring students returning to school following the upcoming Sukkot vacation to present a negative COVID-19 antigen test.

The teachers’ union said it was not the job of educators to monitor students’ adherence to health regulations.

At a meeting of the Knesset Education Committee on Sunday morning, secretary-general of the Israel Teachers’ Union Yaffa Ben David told lawmakers that school principals and kindergarten teachers are not supposed to be “coronavirus wardens.”

“Someone here is completely confused,” she said, according to a statement put out by the union.

On Sunday evening, the regulation was passed by the Education Committee.

Prior to its approval, Ben David said that if the rule were to be approved, the Israel Teachers’ Union will petition the High Court of Justice “to prevent this decree.”

The association of kindergarten teachers likewise said in a statement “we are not the police and our job is not to prevent entry to kindergarten.”

Yaffa Ben David, head of the Israel’s Teacher’s Union in Jerusalem, on March 15, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The new measure is expected to apply to all students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. Ahead of the start of the school year on September 1, parents of all students in first through sixth grades were requested to pick up rapid antigen testing kits from schools and administer them to their kids, but they were not made mandatory for admission to classrooms.

Rapid tests can be completed at home and results take less than 15 minutes. According to the new measure — approved by the attorney general — parents or guardians will be asked to sign a declaration that the test came back negative.

Most students across Israel were in school on Sunday for the final day ahead of the festival of Sukkot, which begins Monday evening. The majority of schools are shut for the entire weeklong holiday, with children slated to return to classrooms September 30, two days after the holiday ends.

The decision to adopt the proposal came as serious COVID-19 cases hit their highest figure so far this month, 10 days after the end of the Rosh Hashanah festival, which is often celebrated with large festive meals.

Close to 7,500 Israelis tested positive for the coronavirus on Saturday, 59 percent of them school-age children, the Health Ministry said. As of Sunday morning, close to 45,000 students have COVID-19, and another 92,000 are in mandatory quarantine following exposure to a verified patient.

A parent picks up a COVID rapid testing kit ahead of the opening of the new school year, in Tel Aviv, August 30, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Meanwhile, the Education Ministry said Sunday that only half of teachers in Israel have received a coronavirus vaccine booster shot.

Starting October 1, anyone eligible for a third dose of the vaccine who hasn’t received one will have their Green Pass revoked, requiring them to present a negative coronavirus test to attend various venues and events. Schools are included in the Green Pass system, with teachers required to be vaccinated or regularly display a COVID-19 negative test result.

According to Health Ministry statistics released Sunday morning, the number of Israelis hospitalized in serious condition with COVID-19 has risen to its highest level in close to three weeks.

The latest figures report 726 Israelis with the coronavirus in serious condition as of Sunday morning, compared to 709 one week ago and 650 on Thursday. As of Sunday, there were 83,809 active COVID-19 cases in the country, with 1,191 of them hospitalized, 726 in serious condition and 195 of those on ventilators.

Over the weekend, Israel surpassed more than 7,500 coronavirus fatalities since the start of the pandemic. According to the latest figures, 7,511 Israelis with COVID have died since March 2020, and more than 1,000 have died in the past six weeks alone.

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