Number of Israeli Teachers and Kids in Coronavirus Quarantine Jumps Four Times in a Week

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Children in the arrivals terminal before going into self-quarantine for 14 days together with their family, at Ben Gurion International airport, March 10, 2020.
Children in the arrivals terminal before going into self-quarantine for 14 days together with their family, at Ben Gurion International airport, March 10, 2020.Credit: RONEN ZVULUN/ REUTERS

The number of school students and teachers in home quarantine due to the coronavirus has surged around four times to 4,000 over the past week, with some educators wondering if Israel’s matriculation exams, a criterion for university admission, will begin on time in May. 

The quarantine tally from elementary and secondary schools now includes about 700 students and teachers from the Max Rayne bilingual Hebrew-Arabic school in Jerusalem. It also includes teachers from Nazareth who visited the West Bank town of Bethlehem, which suffered a coronavirus outbreak last week.

Education Ministry officials have said they are constantly monitoring the situation and are developing materials so that quarantined students can study on their own at home. Also, virtual classrooms have been established by video-conferencing and group chat.

“Our working assumption is that the situation will get worse and that [policies] will intensify, including a more significant disruption in the teaching routine, and we’re preparing for it,” the director general of the Education Ministry, Shmuel Abuav, wrote to school principals Monday.

The main challenge is to maintain routine “while reducing possible exposure to the virus at educational institutions to the minimum possible,” he added.

It is not yet clear how the ministry would act if a large number of high school students were in home quarantine when matriculation exams begin in May, if they begin as scheduled this year. When asked whether matriculation-exam scores might be replaced by school grades, a ministry source said this would require coordination with universities and colleges.

High school principals have told Haaretz that the prospect of dropping the matriculation exams has not been raised with them; they have only heard about it from the media.

Education officials have said the schools’ response to the coronavirus outbreak is subject to directives from the Health Ministry and the National Security Council. But they say they are keen to provide the decision-makers with information on the ramifications of certain steps, noting, for example, that Israel’s 100,000 special-education students have generally been exempted from any long-term shutdown of the schools.

And if the entire public school system were shut down due to the coronavirus, the ministry would also have to consider its policy regarding preschools.

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