'No One Has Explained the Plan': COVID Guidelines in Israel's Arab Schools Sow Confusion

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The Alpha School in Beit Hanina, in East Jerusalem, this month.
The Alpha School in Beit Hanina, in East Jerusalem, this month.Credit: Emil Salman

As schools in the Arab community prepare to open under the coronavirus guidelines, there is a great deal of confusion and concern, with many parents debating whether to send their children to school at all.

“There isn’t enough information in Arabic,” said Majdi Odeh, who has a daughter in elementary school. “Since the plan was announced, I’ve seen only one ad in Arabic. The information campaign is failing and not getting to people. No one has bothered to explain the whole plan to us, and the vaccinations for children – how they will do this and when.”

Bakher Hamad, who has two children, agreed. “Every hour they’re changing something. How can we stay updated? It’s very hard for us, especially when there are a lot of demands that the cities and the schools won’t be able to meet. I fear for my children’s health, but I don’t want to vaccinate them now. They don’t have to be forced.” Diana Jabar, a mother of two, said, “The plan will fail the way it looks now. But we can wear masks and observe hygiene and the instructions and thus maybe reduce the risk.”

Many in the Arab community believe there should have been different guidelines issued for Arab schools, which do not have the resources to administer coronavirus tests or vaccines.

“There should be different guidelines with conditions and solutions that address the way of life in Arab society,” said Mahar Gnaim, the principal of a school in Baka al-Garbiyeh. “What’s upsetting is the issue of vaccinations and testing within the school. We don’t want to be at the front, confronting parents. I would prefer that the vaccination be after classes, so as not to cause chaos within the school. Let there be intermediaries and experts managing the vaccines; don’t involve the educational staff.”

Rim Azzam, a teacher in an elementary school in the center of the country, also has concerns about the plan. “It’s a big challenge for us as teachers,” she warned. “We are worried about chaos, because the expectation is that not all the students will be prepared for what the plan calls for. There are problems of funding and accessibility, and also I have yet to meet a single parent who wants to vaccinate his children.”

Nadim Masri, chairman of the National Arab Parents Association, warned that because of the tenuous situation in many Arab local councils, the education and health ministries have to make a special effort within the community. “Many local councils have financial difficulties and many schools are lacking basic items,” he said. “We don’t want to get to a situation where the students will be victims of a struggle over budgets between the ministries and the local councils.”

Masri actually favors having vaccinations and coronavirus testing in schools or very nearby, “to encourage students to get vaccinated and be checked.”

Baka al-Garbiyeh Mayor Raed Daqa said his goal was to vaccinate as many teenagers as possible so that schools could open after the year and a half that students had lost. “This plan is not easy but we’re at a crossroads; either we don’t open the school year or we just accept all the difficulties. It’s a big challenge for the municipality, the Education Ministry, the government and for the parents,” he said.

While the adults are confused and apprehensive, many Arab students are eagerly waiting to return to school. Diana Abd al-Qader, a high school student in Taibeh, said, “I got vaccinated so I could go back to school after that big break that no one wants to repeat. Despite all the confusion, the year needs to start properly.”

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