Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy said it is possible that children in 4th grade and higher will not go back to school on September 1, in comments swiftly rejected by the Education Ministry.
Levy told the Ynet website on Monday that children in those grades might not attend classes, due to the virus spread.
He said the situation is being reviewed in talks with the government’s coronavirus czar, Ronni Gamzu. Although the ministry would like to see the school year open as planned, “it depends on the morbidity and infections,” he said.
Education Minister Yoav Gallant responded by saying, “There is someone who is shooting out half truths in order to get some media headlines,” according to Hebrew media reports.
“The school year will open on September 1 and anyone who says otherwise will create unnecessary panic,” Gallant said.
Last Thursday, Gallant unveiled details of the back-to-school plan approved by government, which granted NIS 4.2 billion ($1.2 billion) for adjustments related to health guidelines. Under the terms of the framework presented at a press conference, grades 3 and 4 will be split into “capsules” of up to 18 students, and grades 5 through 12, also in capsules, will have two days of in-class studies a week, and the rest will be held remotely.
Kindergarten to second grade are to have full-sized classes of regular studies, under the plan.
“We’ll be ready on September 1,” Gallant vowed at the press conference. “The time to prepare is short, and mission is very complex. The opening of the school year will be filled with difficulties. We’ll face every difficulty.”
Gallant said there may be differential, city-specific aspects to the plan according to need.
He said NIS 1.2 billion ($351 million) will be dedicated to improving remote studies infrastructure, including tens of thousands of laptop computers and kosher phones for the ultra-Orthodox public.
In addition, 13,000 new teacher and teachers’ aide positions will be added to the school system, while teachers will be trained on how to best make use of remote studies platforms.
The rest of the budget package will be for hygiene and protective equipment, support programs for disadvantaged groups, and information services. Schools will have temperature checks at their gates, increased regular cleaning, and hand sanitizer stations in every classroom.
Last week, the cabinet approved funding for the school plan, called Learning in Safety, which was put together by the education, finance, and health ministries.
Schools were closed in mid-March to stem the spread of the virus, but almost all classes were allowed to return by the second week of May in a move that some policy experts said contributed to the resurgence of the virus in recent weeks. The government eventually clamped down on high school classes at the end of the school year, but has taken few steps to close or limit educational programs since then.
Health Ministry figures released Monday showed that six more people had died since the previous update the day before, bringing the national death toll to 606.
There were 884 coronavirus cases diagnosed Sunday, raising the total number of cases since the outbreak began earlier this year to 83,540. So far, 58,934 people have recovered from the virus.
According to the Health Ministry, there are 23,998 active cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, of which 397 are in serious condition, 159 showing moderate symptoms and the rest with light symptoms. There are 118 people on ventilators.
The ministry said 12,151 virus tests were carried out Sunday and a further 11,530 tests processed, of which 7.7% were found to be positive.
Gamzu, who was appointed to direct the national campaign against the virus and has been granted broad powers to get results, said Thursday that Israel’s coronavirus infection rates were the highest in the world, relative to population size, and warned that the country could face another nationwide lockdown if daily confirmed cases were not brought down to “hundreds” by September 1.
At Gamzu’s prodding, the government decided Thursday to cancel weekend closures on shopping centers, stores, and markets, which had been implemented to stymie the spread of the coronavirus, having established that the regulations were not driving down infection rates.