Chaos Taints Preschools Reopening as Israel Eases Coronavirus Lockdown

With new regulations, tens of thousands of toddlers three and under won’t be able to return to school

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A teacher cleans toys to prepare for reopening at a preschool in Jerusalem, May 6, 2020.
A teacher cleans toys to prepare for reopening at a preschool in Jerusalem, May 6, 2020.Credit: Meged Gozani

Public and private preschools and day-care centers resumed operation on Sunday with a maximum of 17 children per group or classroom, as per the Health Ministry’s regulations.

In order to meet the requirements, some 2,200 day-cares will reopen for about 70 percent of enrolled children, excluding tens of thousands of toddlers aged three and younger. Many very young children will also be placed in new, unfamiliar settings for logistical reasons.

Some day-care centers published a list of which children were accepted to return on Sunday just before Shabbat began on Friday evening. Some day-cares will remain shut due to lack of demand, leaving many parents in the lurch since they were unaware their center would not reopen until the last minute.

The Social Affairs Ministry published a list of eligibility criteria for those allowed to come back to day-care centers, which included families in the ministry’s care and children of single mothers. Some parents were told they had to move their children to a center with more space, which either means a longer drive each morning or forces parents to seek private child care and have their children cared for by unfamiliar staff.

A teacher cleans toys to prepare for reopening at a preschool in Jerusalem, May 6, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

One public day-care chain reported that many caregivers are afraid to return to work, including some who are not supposed to resume working yet because of their age, according to Health Ministry guidelines.

In Tel Aviv, parents were angry that the new regulations barred them from entering the day-care centers to drop off their very young children.

Many mishpahtonim, or private child care groups where a few small children are watched by one caretaker, said they would not resume work on Sunday over disagreements with the treasury, which hasn’t agreed to pay them any unemployment stipends for the two months they’ve been forced to close.

Most children enrolled in private day-cares will be able to return on Sunday after an agreement was reached with the treasury for a single compensation payment to cover their losses.

The Social Affairs Ministry says it bears no responsibility for the private preschools. Asked about enforcing the Health Ministry’s coronavirus regulations, the office replied that they don’t have any authority to impose any rules on these centers. There are also no official guidelines for the private sector about how the 17 children permitted to attend each group should be chosen.

One chain of 250 private day-care groups has decided not to reopen on Sunday due to a disagreement about the exclusion of afternoon sessions, known as tzaharonim.

The agreement for reopening preschools and kindergartens calls for requiring children to arrive with face masks, though they will be permitted to take them off while at school. Teachers will have to disinfect themselves following contact with their young charges. Children will be seated in small groups. Some teachers say they fear being turned into babysitters rather than teachers in order to enforce all the rules.

A kindergarten the day before reopening following the coronavirus outbreak, Tel Aviv, May 7, 2020.Credit: Meged Gozani

Children between the ages of three to six will rotate attendance, with half of them going the first three days of the workweek and the second group going the other three days.

Interrupting the flow of this cumbersome return to school is the Lag Ba’omer holiday, which falls on Tuesday. No classes will be held.

Initially the teachers union, under pressure from parents’ groups, had encouraged kindergarten teachers to work voluntarily on that day, but this plan was later cancelled after many complaints from teachers. However, some cities – Jerusalem, Ra’anana and Modi’in – said they planned to keep kindergartens open on Lag Ba’omer and staff them with teaching assistants.

Classes for children in grades 4 through 10 will not be resuming as yet. The plan is for them to gradually reopen starting next week. Grades 7 through 10 will likely resume classes in a close to regular format, since many high schools have space while members of upper classes take final exams.

Returning children in grades 4 to 6 to school is more complicated since they must meet in smaller groups and there are fewer classrooms available in the elementary schools, where younger classes are taking up considerable space in order to meet this requirement. Grades 4 to 6 may resume for only a day or two a week, alternating with the lower grades. The Education Ministry is also looking at setting up temporary structures to ease the process.

After-school activities will resume this month on a limited basis.

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