Kindergartens, day care centers and elementary school grades 1 through 3 are set to reopen Sunday on a limited basis, after a cabinet committee led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved the measure on Monday.
Final approval will hinge on continued easing of the spread of the coronavirus as well as the findings of a study by the Gertner Institute for Epidemiology and Health Policy Research on coronavirus infection rates in children, due for presentation this week. All studies from the fourth grade and above, including higher education, will continue remotely.
The Health Ministry announced that on Monday three have people died of the virus and 112 people were found to be infected, bringing the death toll to 204 and the number of cases to 15,555.
Under the new plan, preschool and kindergarten classes will be divided into groups of up to 15 children that will each attend for half the week and learn remotely on the other days. Each group of up to 15 children will be divided while in school, so that no more than eight children are in a class together.
The organizations that operate the state-supervised preschools, including WIZO, Emunah and the Israel Association of Community Centers, have announced that they will not open their facilities Sunday. They are demanding compensation for the period during which their centers were closed as well as for the proposed limited operation schedule. Officials said that if each child only attends three days per week, parents cannot be asked to pay more than 50 percent tuition. At the same time, the schools’ expenses will not decline as a result of the new arrangement and will only increase due to the need to purchase sanitizers and personal protective gear for staff members.
Organizations representing private preschools also said they won’t reopen next week, raising the same questions of expenses and a few new ones. “What will happen if a teacher is infected or if a whole preschool has to go into quarantine? Who’ll pay the expenses of a preschool that is closed again as a result of an infection?” said Yaniv Bar-Or, who heads an association of private preschool operators. “We haven’t received answers and instructions and no one bothers to consult with us,” he added.
In grades 1 through 3, each class will be split to limit the average size of the groups to 15. The school week will also be shortened to five days, Sunday through Thursday, instead of Sunday through Friday. Further, Recess will be staggered to keep the various groups apart. The Education Ministry agreed to examine the possibility of bringing in students of education to increase school staffing levels so as to accommodate the increased number of classes.
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Children who have a high risk of contracting the coronavirus or who live with someone who is will continue to learn remotely rather than return to school, it was decided in Monday’s meeting. The criteria for determining risk was not discussed, however. With regard to children in communities with high infection and illness rates, the National Security Council and the interior minister are going to draw up a policy. The NSC has recommended not reopening schools and preschools in such communities.