Education Officials Blame Health Ministry for Keeping Classes Closed

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Middle school students in Jerusalem, last month.
Middle school students in Jerusalem, last month.Credit: Emil Salman

Third graders will be attending classes without being separated into pods for the first time since restrictions on schools began, when they return from the Passover break on Monday. In light of a steady drop in new coronavirus cases, the Health MInistry is considering expanding this to additional grades after examining the effects of canceling pods for third graders.

Officials at the Education Ministry have accused the Health Ministry of rejecting various proposals over the last two weeks for the resumption of school operations at full capacity. On the backdrop of a partial resumption of school operations Monday, a senior Education Ministry official told Haaretz that “as the number of active cases kept dropping, we tried to talk to them about alternatives to the demands they had made, but to no avail.” He added that it was inconceivable that the number of cases would dramatically drop, but that the model according to which schools were operating would remain unchanged.

This official said that the Health Ministry says they are considering various proposals, “even though the situation has changed completely, with a drop in all the important indicators. Schools are the last place that keeps the Health Ministry relevant,” he added.

The Education Ministry’s director general, Amit Edry, said on Sunday that there was no logic in maintaining the school system on a footing of half-sized groups operating on half the days. He added that the numbers of actively sick people justify returning the system to a fully operational mode.

According to a plan that was laid out three weeks ago, classes in grades 1-3 would take place five days a week, for five hours a day; grades 4-6 would have classes with capsules of up to 20 pupils, at least three days a week. Grades 7-10 would have classes at least twice a week. Grades 11 and 12 would maintain a full schedule in locations in which the rate of vaccinated or recovering pupils was 90 percent. In all the groups, there are restrictions on teachers moving from group to group.

Pupils in Arab schools are on a spring break that will last until April 17, meaning they will return to school later in any case. According to a source at the Education Ministry, the Health Ministry wanted to wait at least one more week before new decisions were made regarding studying in capsules in grades 4-12. This was for the purpose of assessing the impact of the cancellation of capsules in grade 3, a move decided on during the Passover break.

However, according to this source, past data has not pointed to any difference in the number of cases in grades 1-2, which were fully functional, and grades 3 and 4, which studied in capsules. Another source said that “it seems that the Ministry of Health already understands that there is no more justification for the capsule format.”

This source added that “we told the Health Ministry that when 76 percent of teaching staff and two thirds of grade 11 and 12 pupils are already vaccinated, it is possible to adjust the demand that 90 percent of pupils and staff must be vaccinated before studies begin as usual. This condition does not exist anywhere else. There is no real reason why pupils in grades 11-12 cannot return to full-time studies. They move around in open spaces anyway. It’s more important that they go to school.”

He added that “not only are all businesses open, and not just from yesterday, but there is no other place where there is such constant and tight supervision as there is in schools, which allows an investigation and severing of chains of infection when cases are identified. No one is making light of the health situation, but the right balance must be found.”

Meanwhile, the military is to begin a three-month pilot program exempting some units from wearing masks, starting Monday. The program will exempt training and combat units during training exercises and outdoor activities, under the condition that at least 90 percent of the soldiers taking part are vaccinated or recovered.

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