Children in first through third grades will return to school five days a week, for five hours a day, with classes capped at 15 students, according to the Education Ministry’s plan on the resumption of studies next week amid the pandemic.
The proposal would only see students in those grades head back to class full-time beginning Sunday. Kindergartens and preschools will also reopen, but only for three days per week, with a limited number of children permitted in a classroom at a time.
For the time being, kids in the fourth grade and above will continue to study remotely for five days a week.
The Education Ministry plan lays out strict social distancing and hygiene instructions for the first-, second- and third-grade students returning to class, telling schools that desks must be placed two meters apart. Students are also to refrain from any physical contact. Staff and students in second and third grade will be required to wear masks while outside the classroom.
Parents will also have to sign health forms clearing kids of coronavirus. Children who have a family member who is sick with the virus may not come to school, the plan says.
“On the school grounds and in the classrooms, two meters of space should be kept, where possible, between each person. The students must be instructed to refrain from touch,” it says.
Students are also to be told not to pass objects around or share food, and parents will not be permitted to enter school buildings.
For kindergartens and preschools, the children will be split into two groups of up to 17 children, with the first group coming in on Sunday to Tuesday and the second group on Wednesday to Friday. The kindergartens are not bound by social distancing rules, though teachers are advised to spread the children out as much as possible.
“I am pleased that after in-depth and comprehensive work, in cooperation with the Health Ministry, we can present a model of a gradual and cautious return to school,” Education Minister Rafi Peretz said in a statement.
The plan still requires final government approval.
A panel of cabinet ministers on Monday approved a plan to gradually reopen schools. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said he, too, confirmed the plan, though it is dependent on infections remaining low and the findings of research being conducted for the Health Ministry on infection rates among children.
Ministers are expected to reevaluate the situation on Friday and, barring a spike in the number of cases, give the plan a final nod.
The move to reopen schools came as Israel took its biggest step Sunday toward reopening the economy, allowing many nonessential businesses to reopen 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 would necessitate a solution for younger children who cannot be left unsupervised. The Bank of Israel said Thursday 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.
The government last week allowed special education students to return to class under directives capping class sizes.
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.
The Health Ministry on Saturday defined new parameters on which to base its decisions regarding the easing or tightening of restrictions on the public and the economy, amid widespread criticism of a confused decision-making process.
These include the number of new daily sick remaining below 300 and the number of seriously ill also staying under that number.
If one of those limits are passed, it could derail plans for a gradual return to studies. On April 20, Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov said that his ministry was preparing for the possibility of another coronavirus outbreak next winter, and cautioned that such an outbreak would be “much more complicated and challenging” than the current one.
Israel has seen the number of daily cases decline in the past week. There have been over 200 deaths and 15,000 infections in the country.