Israel's Middle Schoolers, 10th Graders to Return to Class Part-time Sunday

Treasury, local authorities favor full-time classes to allow parents to return to work

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Outside the Yigal Alon school in the Tel Aviv suburb of Givatayim, May 3, 2020.
Outside the Yigal Alon school in the Tel Aviv suburb of Givatayim, May 3, 2020.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Middle schools will open this Sunday with students attending two to three days a week, while 10th grade will reopen in a similar format, government officials decided at a meeting Monday.

Students will go to school three days a week if the middle school isn’t part of a high school, but only two days a week if it is.

No more than 20 students will be allowed in each class, and they will have to wear masks and maintain a distance of two meters from each other. In total, there will be a maximum of 60 students in a school each day.

Fourth through sixth graders will also return to school on Sunday, but no decision has been reached on the format. First through 3rd graders are already attending school five days a week for five hours a day, and the plan is to have them continue. Thus the two options for 4th through 6th graders are having them come one day a week, on Fridays, or having them come five days a week after the lower grades have gone home.

Health Ministry director general Moshe Bar Siman Tov rejected a proposal to let middle schools and high schools open full-time in communities where the incidence of coronavirus is low. He also rejected a proposal to increase the maximum number of children per class in 4th through 6th grades.

Monday’s decisions were made at a meeting of officials from the education and health ministries and the National Security Council, on the basis of a proposal submitted by the Education Ministry. The proposal was distributed to principals, local governments and local education departments.

But some local governments said they oppose the ministry’s plan for reopening the 4th through 6th grades, as their schools lack both space and personnel, said Idan Grinbaum, chairman of the Jordan Valley Regional Council. “The 4th through 6th grade teachers are busy teaching the divided 1st through 3rd grade classes. Where will we dig up additional teachers?” he said.

“We also don’t have enough classrooms to maintain the division into small classes,” Grinbaum added. “And we haven’t yet even mentioned busing. It’s permissible to transport up to 23 children from a community, so this means it will now be necessary to send two buses per community. Who will pay for that? We haven’t solved anything; we’ve just made it more complicated.”

An Israeli supervisor directs pupils wearing protective gear at Hashalom elementary in Mevaseret Zion, in the suburbs of Jerusalem, on May 3, 2020.Credit: Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP

Finance Ministry director general Shai Babad argued on Monday that preschools should reopen full time in communities with a low incidence of coronavirus. In a letter to Bar Siman Tov, he said his proposal was coordinated with the Union of Local Authorities, which confirmed that local governments are ready to immediately reopen the school system full time.

Babad wrote that under the current practice of opening preschools only part time, many parents are unable to return to work full time. Anyone with preschool-age children is losing 2.5 days of work per week, and this costs the economy 3.2 billion shekels ($910 million) a month. 

Moreover, he said, the national and local governments are spending an extra 300 million shekels a month to allow preschool classes to be kept smaller than usual. 

Babad also warned that part-time preschools could permanently undermine many parents’ employment prospects, because now that the economy is reopening, employers might prefer workers who are available full-time to those who can only work part time and might therefore fire the latter or put them on unpaid leave.

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