Most Local Councils Decide Not to Return Schools to Routine Schedule Until Today

Administrators, teachers, parents, pupils complain about ‘unrealistic’ rules on masks, social distancing

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Students wearing protective masks at a school in central Israel, May 5, 2020.
Students wearing protective masks at a school in central Israel, May 5, 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod
Shira Kadari-Ovadia
Shira Kadari-Ovadia

The school system officially returned to full operation for all age groups on Sunday, but in effect most of the schools in the country continued to operate in a reduced format like that in the past two weeks – with classes for grades 1-3 and 11-12 only.

Education Ministry figures indicate that only 17 percent of local governments, most of them small ones in the Arab community, resumed a full schedule for grades 4-10 on Sunday. In the places where they did return to the full schedule, the teaching staffs are warning that the ministry’s directives for distancing and wearing masks are not feasible.

>> Coronavirus tracker: Updating count of cases and deaths in Israel and worldwide

Most of the cities and regional councils announced that grades 4-10 would return only on Monday, to give them time to prepare. Jerusalem, which said that all the students would return on Sunday, actually brought back only the elementary school pupils. The high school students will return gradually, and only one grade was back on Sunday. On Monday the schools will return to a full schedule.

After two weeks of studying in groups of 17, 1st to 3rd graders returned to their home rooms without any restriction on the number of pupils. Kindergartens returned to a full week of operation and the supervised day care centers, which last week operated with partial occupancy of 17 toddlers to a class, have also returned to a full schedule.

A teacher and students, all wearing protective gear, at a school in central Israel, May 5, 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod

Some of the pre-nursery play groups, which were not prepared to return to a full routine, will resume activity on Monday with the approval of the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry.

All the schools under Education Ministry jurisdiction are required to operate according to directives on hygiene and social distancing. Students in 4th grade and above must wear masks throughout the school day, including during lessons. Second and 3rd graders must wear a mask only during recess. All school teachers and preschool teachers must wear a mask during recess only.

The directives were widely criticized by teachers, principals, parents and local council heads. “We won’t run after the students to put on masks,” said a regional council head. Givatayim Mayor Ran Konik called the directives unrealistic.

The Education Ministry asked the Health Ministry to cancel the requirement for masks during lessons, but the request was refused. On Sunday, Education Ministry representatives turned to the National Security Council in an attempt to cancel the requirement.

“The children were happy to return to their class and to the familiar schedule,” said Or, a 2nd grade teacher. The joy is overshadowed by the directives.

In Or’s classroom, with 34 pupils in a crowded space, the order to maintain distance between pupils is a joke. “Not only is there no possibility of seating each child at his own table, in some cases three children sit around the same table because there aren’t enough tables in the school.”

According to the directives, students must maintain a distance of two meters from one another during recess – which is unfeasible in light of the crowded conditions in the classrooms. During recess they aren’t allowed to play ball, but they can play cards.

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

“If the problem is that the ball passes from hand to hand, what’s the difference between the games?” wondered Or. She said, “The children have nothing to do during recess, and in addition the size of the schoolyard has been limited so that the age groups won’t mingle. We’re trying to find ideas for activities for them so they won’t stand alone in the yard. There seems to be no rationale behind the directives.”

The Health Ministry confirmed ten more people had been diagnosed with COVID-19 Sunday night since the morning update, bringing the total number of cases to 17,617.

One person has died, bringing the total to 272.

The number of active cases dropped to 3,403, with 55 patients in in serious condition and 44 on ventilators.

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