Israeli Education Chiefs Say Can't Keep Unvaccinated Kids Out of School

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A girl reading coronavirus instructions at a school in Rishon Letzion this week.
A girl reading coronavirus instructions at a school in Rishon Letzion this week. Credit: Ilan Assayag
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The Education Ministry said Wednesday there is no way to prevent children who have not been vaccinated against the coronavirus from coming to class during the school year that starts Wednesday.

“No preschool teacher or principal is going to stand at the gate and prevent children from learning, even if they haven’t done a coronavirus test,” a ministry source said.

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The ministry's statement that “it isn’t legally feasible” was a response to remarks earlier Wednesday by Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, who said the decision on whether to admit unvaccinated children “is an issue we're leaving to the schools.”

The Education Ministry added that “in accordance with the evolving regulations,” parents – like teachers and other staff members – will be required to show a Green Pass or a negative coronavirus test result before entering the school.

The ministry released a list of frequently asked questions for parents, hoping to clear up much of the confusion after the coronavirus cabinet this week approved the plan to open the school year.

As one question puts it, “Can a student who doesn’t have a Green Pass – that is, he isn’t vaccinated – nor has he been found positive [for antibodies] in a serological test, and hasn’t recovered [from the virus], come to school?”

After noting that the ministry “attributes great importance to the vaccination of students and to tests to assure a protected environment,” it said the student in the FAQ question "can come to school and study" unless he or she has been in contact with a confirmed coronavirus patient during the previous two weeks.

A boy receiving a rapid coronavirus test in Tel Aviv last week. Credit: Hadas Parush

As September 1 approaches, and given the country’s high rate of infection, the rapid antigen swab tests are taking on greater importance.

Under the plan, some 1.9 million kits will arrive for preschool through ninth grade all over the country, to be picked up by parents who must administer the test to their children before September 1. Preschool teachers and principals have been protesting the order to collect notes from parents stating that their child received a negative result.

“Every parent will have to do the test on their children 12 and under, and provide confirmation that they're negative – then they can go to school,” Horowitz told the Ynet news site. “The boy or girl isn't meant to come to class without a test. Will they let them through the gate or not? Will the teacher accept them or not? That’s a matter we’re leaving to the schools.”

He added, “Will the principal at the gate send home a boy who comes without a note, or call the parents and ask them to take home a girl who didn’t bring the confirmation, or ask that a test be done on site? The individual management for every boy and girl will be done by the educational staff.”

According to a decision by the coronavirus cabinet, entrance to schools at any age will be permitted only by showing a Green Pass or a negative coronavirus test, in accordance with Health Ministry instructions.

According to the Education Ministry, there has been no decision on who will finance the regular coronavirus testing of educational staffers who refuse to be vaccinated. An estimated 37,000 of such employees are neither vaccinated nor recovered.

The ministry added that a decision on the scope of the “green classroom” plan –  aimed at reducing the required days of quarantine among children if someone gets sick – will be made only in mid-October.

The newest Education Ministry statement still refers to serological (blood) testing as the first level of defense, which will “assure the health of students and educational staffers, as well as the continuity of study.” But on Tuesday the education and health ministries and the Home Front Command announced their decision to focus serological testing only on communities with high infection rates.

The statement also notes that at present there are no restrictions on students or staff members traveling between communities with different infection levels. This means that students and teachers from red areas with high levels of infection can go to preschool or school in green, yellow or orange areas, and vice versa.

Along with the FAQs for parents, detailed instructions were sent to schools. The instructions let parents enter a school only if they show a Green Pass or a recent negative coronavirus test; the advice is to hold parent meetings via Zoom or in open areas.

Meanwhile, the adjustment period for children entering preschool or first grade is being limited to the first week of school, during which “entrance and time spent will be limited to 10 minutes per parent,” and only one parent at a time can sit with the child in a closed area of the class.

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