As Israeli Schools Reopen After COVID Lockdown, 80 Percent of Students Stay at Home

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An empty makeshift classroom in Tel Aviv
An empty makeshift classroom in Tel AvivCredit: Moti Milrod
Or Kashti

Only 20 percent of Israeli students are expected to return to school on Thursday, according to the Education Ministry. These are preschoolers and children in grades 1-4 in areas where schools can be opened. This means that 1.9 million children will continue with remote learning until the next update on easing restrictions in 10 days. For now, students in grades 11 and 12 are only due to return to school in the second stage of reopening, two weeks from now.

The coronavirus cabinet met on Tuesday evening and approved a gradual return to school, and preschools and elementary schools were informed of the outline on Wednesday afternoon. Several local authorities complained about conflicting instructions from the health and education ministries, which make it difficult to give parents clear information about if and when their children will go back to school.

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Some of the organizations that run day care centers said they would be unable to get ready in time, in part due to the need to bring assistant teachers back from unpaid leave.

One official in a big city in central Israel said, “Every city has a bunch of different traffic light plans – from the Home Front Command, and the Health Ministry and Education Ministry. Each one has a different traffic light outline, and divides the neighborhoods differently, and each one insists that they are the one who decides. The result is total chaos. There’s no synchronization among the government ministries, and the ones who pay the price are the parents, principals and the local authorities.”

According to the outline published by the Education Ministry, school will resume on Thursday in “green” and “yellow” localities, and also in “orange” communities that have received exemptions for in-person learning, for preschools and grades 1-4. Preschools will operate 6 days a week on a regular schedule and preschool afternoon programs will operate 5 days a week, in set groups with set staff.

School in these locales will resume as per the formula that was in use prior to the third lockdown: Preschoolers and first and second graders will learn together with the whole class while third and fourth graders will be divided into two capsules of no more than 20 students. Teachers in the lower grades will be able to move between three groups of students at most, and in grades 3 and 4, between four groups of students.

Grades 5-12 will continue with remote learning. The Education Ministry also approved “outdoor activity” where teaching staff will be able to meet outdoors with groups of up to nine students. This activity will be permitted for all children in all grades and in all areas. However, school principals warn that this is far from meeting the students’ needs, especially students in grades 5-10.

“The children are in a much worse state now than the previous times [during the coronavirus pandemic],” a principal in Jerusalem said this week. “After long weeks of not learning, we’re finding a large new group of students – students who were doing fine up to now even if they weren’t the top students – who are getting lost. They don’t turn on the camera [during online sessions], they’re disappearing academically and emotionally.”

According to the government’s decision, the “orange” localities where school will resume are those whose grade according to the traffic light plan is lower than 6.5 and where the rate of vaccinated people over age 50 is at least 70 percent. Later, it was decided to permit schools to resume in “green” and “yellow” neighborhoods within big cities.

The present traffic light list will be in effect until February 20. On February 17, the Health Ministry will publish an updated list that will go into effect on February 21, a Sunday.

Petah Tikva is currently classified as an “orange” city, so preschools there will be divided into four groups that will meet in the yard every other day for just two hours. Parents in the city were informed that if the weather doesn’t allow for outdoor activity, “we’ll go back to remote learning for all the children.”

The Education Ministry says approximately 77,000 students will return to school in “orange” areas, about 175,000 in “green” areas and about 235,000 in “yellow” areas – in total, some 487,000 students out of the 2.4 million in the school system.

The Tel Aviv municipality announced that it will resume activity at all schools and for all age groups in the city by using the permission granted to hold meetings of up to nine children in open spaces like yards, gardens or parks. This includes meetings for all ages in “orange” and “red” neighborhoods, and for grades 5-12 in “green” and “yellow” areas. Jerusalem has also decided to hold outdoor meetings in all areas for all colors of the traffic light and for all ages.

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