Education Ministry Reverses Decision, Brings Lower Grades Back for Four-day Week

Due to staff shortages, students in grades 1 and 2 would have only been to school on alternate days when exiting the coronavirus lockdown on Sunday – with local governments threatening to rebel

Shira Kadari-Ovadia
Shira Kadari-Ovadia
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A first grader walks to school in Jerusalem, September 1, 2020.
A first grader walks to school in Jerusalem, September 1, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Shira Kadari-Ovadia
Shira Kadari-Ovadia

Students in grades 1 through 4 will attend school at least four days a week when in-person instruction resumes on Sunday, the Education Ministry said Wednesday.

Under the original plan, announced earlier this week, children in grades 1 and 2 were to attend school only three days a week, while grades 3 and 4 would attend five days a week. The decision faced many objections.

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Schools will now be able to choose to hold on-site instruction five days a week also for the two lowest grades.

When the school year began, classes in grades 3 and 4 were divided into groups of up to 18 children. Grades 1 and 2 remained in full classrooms of up to 36 children.

On Monday, the coronavirus cabinet decided that grades 1 and 2 would follow the format for grades 3 and 4, in order to slow the spread of infection. Sources close to Education Minister Yoav Gallant had then explained that grades 3 and 4 could resume in-person instruction five days a week, but the first two grades would have to split time because of a lack of available staff.

Education Minister Yoav Gallant visits the Neta'im school in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan on the first day of the year, September 1, 2020.Credit: Marc Israel Sellem / Pool

Dozens of local governments said they would rebel, reopening for a full week by using resources creatively and in accordance with their communities' needs. The Education Ministry initially objected before saying that the arrangement was acceptable

On Wednesday, Gallant said that after reviewing the issue the ministry had decided to shift resources so that students in all four lower grades could attend school in-person at least four days a week.

“The moment we give up on a day of schooling for grades 3 and 4, we enable giving grades 1 and 2 an extra day,” he said.

Gallant said the current plan is only for two weeks, and that afterward the government would re-evaluate how to continue. For instance, children in grades 1 and 2 may be returned to full classes, which would be kept separate even during after care hours.

Currently, children in grades 1 and 2 kept in 18-student groups would be merged during after care in the afternoon.

On Wednesday, coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu said Israel had reached its goal of fewer than 1,000 COVID-19 cases a week, which would allow it to reopen the economy. The R number, representing the rate of the disease’s spread, has dropped below 1 to 0.8. The next phase of return to normal includes reopening schools for the lower grades and reopening nonessential businesses under certain restrictions.

Outgoing coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu at a Jerusalem City Council meeting, October 13, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

Gamzu noted that Arab communities, where the R number is closer to 1, are still at risk of becoming coronavirus hot spots. He urged residents to get tested for the virus.

Mandatory quarantine will be shortened to 10 days from the current 14 days, pending approval. According to Gamzu, quarantine could be cut short on condition of two negative tests – the first taken between the third and fifth day of quarantine period and the second on the ninth or 10th day.

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