Parents in Israel Keep Kids Home From School to Avoid COVID Quarantine Over Holiday

According to Health Ministry figures released on Friday, some 147,000 school children were in quarantine, 44,314 of whom were infected with COVID and the rest of whom had been exposed to infected people

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An elementary school in Haifa, in September.
An elementary school in Haifa, in September.Credit: Amir Levy

Parents are choosing to keep children home from school out of concern that they may be required to quarantine over the upcoming Sukkot holiday. According to Health Ministry figures released on Friday, some 147,000 school children were in quarantine, 44,314 of whom were infected with COVID and the rest of whom had been exposed to infected people.

Idan Weisman, 39, of Be’er Sheva, who has two children ages 4 and 6, said he had decided not to send his kids to school because of a family vacation during the interim days of Sukkot, which had been planned months ago. “The whole family’s coming, including the extended family. We’re afraid of exposure to someone with the virus and of being forced to quarantine.” Weisman said that his 6-year-old son was already in quarantine this year because of exposure to a schoolmate who had tested positive for the virus. “We made a decision that the kids would miss three days of school in exchange for minimizing the risk of unnecessary exposure to other children,” he added.

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Raheli Hanuni from Afula has four children ranging in age from eight months to nine years. It has only been 17 days since the school year started and they have already been in quarantine. “One quarantine was forced on us after a child in my son’s kindergarten tested positive for the coronavirus. But we were saved from a second quarantine.” On the eve of Yom Kippur we were informed that two children in my daughter’s class had COVID, but my daughter wasn’t in class because I haven’t sent the children to school since Rosh Hashanah,” she explained.

Hanuni said she has decided not to send her children back to school until after Sukkot. “The High Holy Days are a time for the family to come together, for joy. My parents are elderly and we need to be careful,” she said. “We still don’t have plans for Sukkot, but if we go out to have fun, it will be in nature, not enclosed spaces,” she said.

Noa Miller, from the settlement of Efrat, who has four children between two and nine years old, has kept her children home from school since Monday. “I figured that to avoid the risk of quarantine during Sukkot I have to keep the children home from school already a week before. The extended family is coming to stay with us over the holiday, including the grandparents, and we don’t want to put them at risk. What’s more, we’re Orthodox, so the children can’t use technology to alleviate boredom on the holidays.”

As far as Ehud from Pardes Hannah is concerned, the decision not to send his daughter to kindergarten was an easy one, considering the family’s past experience. Their son, who is in daycare, continued to go as usual. “We send him because we’ve already seen that there are less quarantines arising from daycare. But our daughter’s kindergarten has already gone into quarantine twice.” Ehud says his family is meeting for a Sukkot eve meal, “and we aren’t willing to risk this for two days in kindergarten.” Many other parents made the same decision, he said. “I came one morning to pick up the decorations our daughter had made for the sukkah and there were hardly any children there. Everyone realizes it’s a simple deal, and it’s worth it.” Still, Ehud said he and his wife are sorry it’s turning out this way, “that we have to do such calculations. As opposed to previous times, this time there are no restrictions. What’s happening this time is that people are making their own health choices.”

Last week, school principals throughout the country complained that the unit that coordinates information on quarantines of teachers and students gives vague directives on distance-learning. They also criticized the fact that according to the published figures on quarantined students, their exposure to confirmed cases of the virus had jumped 85 percent compared to the figures from before the school year started.

According to the current procedures, information about a student with a confirmed case of the virus is supposed to be shared by the Health Ministry with the Education Ministry, which coordinates and monitors children and teachers with the virus. The unit in charge of this work is supposed to inform principals and determine who was exposed to these children.

“In reality, this model has not been functioning over the past few days,” one principal from central Israel said. “No official representative calls us. The parents are the ones who are reporting, and when we call the unit, we have to wait on the line for two or three hours before they even pick up. ” School principals elsewhere in the country reported a similar situation.

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