Preschools and day care centers will reopen on Sunday in a limited format, after several disputes between the Education Ministry and the Health Ministry surrounding their operations were resolved.
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The decision to reopen preschools under the auspices of the Education Ministry was made last Friday by the Knesset’s ministerial committee overseeing the exit strategy from the coronavirus crisis, but a number of disagreements stood in the way of implementing the plan.
Children in preschools will attend only three days a week, and classes will be divided into groups of up to 18 children. One of the disputes was about the maximum number of children in each group. The Education Ministry had said last week that groups would be limited to 15-17 children. Now, preschools with classes of up to 36 children can start operating with their regular staff by dividing each class into two groups and having each one in a different areas of the preschool.
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Another dispute that was resolved concerned the work of teachers’ assistants, who move between different preschools during the week. The plan now calls for limiting their movement to no more than six fixed groups.
Groups will attend preschools for three consecutive days between 7:55 A.M. and 2:00 P.M., and then spend the other three days doing distance learning at home. Each preschool can decide on its own rotation schedule from week to week. For Arab preschools, which operate five days a week, children will attend either two or three days per week, alternating each week.
According to the ministerial committee, day care centers are also due to open on Sunday, but no guidelines for executing this plan have been published yet, and the Health Ministry and Social Affairs Ministry, which oversees day care centers, are discussing the issue.
The Health Ministry insists that each group of children in day care should be divided into three sections, which would require employing three caretakers. But the treasury stated it can provide a budget to have only two caretakers per group. Another issue is salaries for day care workers for the months of March and April, when they were closed.
It seems that ultimately, children in day care will not be divided into three groups or attend on different days. Instead, the number of children attending will be restricted according to criteria determined by the Social Affairs Ministry. Single-parent and low-income families will be given higher priority. The result will be that some children will be in day care six days a week while others will not be able to attend at all.
Aside from safety issues, there is a debate about the economic aspects of this decision, since operating both private and public day care centers with small groups of children is not economically feasible and will require financial assistance. Letting children attend part-time will mean lower fees, making it impossible for centers to cover their costs. The head of the Na’amat women’s organization, which operates many day cares, said that centers would not open until the financial issues are resolved.
The government also decided that grades 4 to 10 would return to school by the end of May, but this date might be moved up. It isn’t clear how this will be implemented, since small groups will require additional staff as well as classrooms. In the meantime, teachers for those grades have been mobilized to teach the smaller classes in the lower grades.
Students in grades 11 and 12 have been allowed to return to classes in order to prepare for their matriculation exams, which begin at the end of June. Students are studying in concentrated marathon sessions rather than by following fixed schedules.
Grade 11 and 12 students will sit for a reduced number of matriculation exams, in math, English, one humanities subject (literature, Bible or civics, with each school making the decision) and one science subject. Final grades in other subjects will be based on regular school marks.
The Education Ministry has not issued guidelines for teachers are or who have family members who are at high risk for the coronavirus. They can be exempted from attending school by obtaining a note from an occupational physician. However, appointments with such doctors have wait times of several months, and teachers in the high-risk group must go on unpaid leave if they decide not to come to work. The Health Ministry recommended earlier in the week that teachers in the high-risk group not return to work.
There is no solution for teachers who feel unwell or those who have young children, and schools will remain understaffed. The Education Ministry is not allowing schools to recruit external assistance in these cases. “They make you feel that if you’re sick, you’re letting down the other teachers,” said one teacher. “But on the other hand, you need to fill a declaration of health and stay away if you’re sick.” Teachers are not allowed to use their sick days if they cannot come to work, and an unpaid leave remains their only option.