Israel's First- and Second-grade Classes to Merge to Let Older Students Back to School

Health Ministry withdraws request to have younger classes split into smaller groups in order to free up classrooms

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Children arrive for school in Tel Aviv, November 1, 2020.
Children arrive for school in Tel Aviv, November 1, 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod

The Health Ministry is withdrawing its demand that first and second grade classes be split into capsules in order to enable fifth and sixth graders to return to school, and says the change is contingent upon carefully maintaining the same class groupings in the afternoon programs. On Thursday the Finance Ministry and the Federation of Local Authorities in Israel announced they would fund the plan.

Canceling the division of first and second grade classes into smaller groups will free up classrooms for fifth and sixth graders. The change could go into effect in 10 days depending on the coronavirus infection rate and pending cabinet approval. The Health Ministry did not explain the health-related considerations behind the decision.

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The Federation of Local Authorities estimates the cost of maintaining the same first and second grade classes in the afternoon hours through Passover at 300-400 million shekels. The joint announcement with the Finance Ministry also cited the need to recruit 6,000 counselors for the afternoon programs.

“The Federation of Local Authorities will take full responsibility for operating the afternoon programs in accordance with Health Ministry and Education Ministry directives, and will work to recruit 6,000 counselors to meet the need in light of the division of the original afternoon groups. The safety net will include an additional budget so that smaller, divided afternoon groups can also continue to operate. In the first stage, this safety net will extend until the Passover break.”

First through fourth grades returned to school on Sunday according to the outline formulated by the Education, Health and Finance Ministries. The plan underwent several major changes before it took effect. Initially, the ministries said first and second graders would attend school in capsulized groups for just half the week, since there were insufficient funds for them to to so for the entire school week. Education Minister Yoav Gallant announced that the students would attend school under the capsule system at least four days a week, and that local authorities that were able to allow for a five-day a week program could do so. If the new plan is approved, grades one through six will not be subdivided into smaller groups.

Meanwhile, Israel’s outgoing coronavirus czar, Prof. Ronni Gamzu said the next target date for lifting further restrictions, November 15, would be difficult to meet.

“Nevertheless, street shops – it was determined that they would open,” he said, adding that he found the decision to be the lesser of two evils. “It is very reasonable to allow commerce in the State of Israel over time even when the Health Ministry stands behind its decision not to open, we had to allow some sort of trade. We need to find balance.”

Gamzu also called on people to go get tested: “My heart aches every day that there are only 40,000 tests a day – it’s a waste of our capacity. It’s our ability to prevent lockdowns.”

Public Health Services chief Dr. Sharon Elrai Price warned Thursday that opening street shops may lead Israel to a third lockdown.

Speaking to Army radio, Elrai Price said that “If we do not reopen carefully, we will all be sorry…If we do not wait with shops and if they open – there is a lot of pressure to open more and more things – we will arrive at a third lockdown in the end.”

“I truly understand the pressure and the need, both of the people who want to buy things and certainly that of the people who want to sell. I think we need to help them financially to keep their heads above water, and there are all sorts of ways to ease restrictions. But my job is to look at it from a health standpoint, and from the moment that we reopened we see a rise in infection.”

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said it would have been better to compensate shop owners rather than to reopen stores.

“I recommend that going forward, we all follow the Health Ministry plan very closely,” he said. “There’s no guarantee, we can’t be sure that if everyone just follows our decisions then everything will be fine...but the method of quickly easing restrictions and haphazardly exiting lockdown has already been tested and failed.”

“What’s killing us is populism and demands to reopen everything. This is how we bring the country to a third lockdown.”

Edelstein said of vacinne development that “it’s clear that this is a process that will take many months, in the most optimistic scenario.” he said.

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