Finance Ministry Suggest Nixing Summer Break for Special Ed Students Amid Coronavirus Crisis

The Education minister, however, is objecting a complete cancellation of the vacation and has proposed instead a shorter break

Shira Kadari-Ovadia
Shira Kadari-Ovadia
Elementary school students study online as Israel shutters schools to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Kafr Qasem, Israel, March 2020.
Elementary school students study online as Israel shutters schools to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Kafr Qasem, Israel, March 2020. Credit: Moti Milrod
Shira Kadari-Ovadia
Shira Kadari-Ovadia

The Finance Ministry has proposed canceling the summer vacation in special education and preschools, in an attempt to make up for the school days canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, while the Education Ministry expressed its objection to such a move.

Education Minister Rafi Peretz objects to a complete cancellation of the vacation and has proposed instead a shorter vacation, with schools running through the end of July and summer vacation during August.

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An official document presented on Sunday by the Finance Ministry to the National Security Council recommends the special education and preschool systems “continue to operate during the summer months, too.” Sources close to Peretz said this was the treasury’s position in general for all educational frameworks, but the Finance Ministry denied it.

Education Ministry officials said shortening the summer vacation – which is usually all of July and August for elementary schools, shorter in special education and a bit longer for high schools – to just the month of August would be acceptable to the teachers unions and would allow the education system to enough time to prepare properly for the next school year.

It was reported on Saturday that the Finance Ministry wanted to reopen preschools and Special Ed starting on next Sunday, April 19. This would enable parents to return to work. According to this plan, first to third grades would return to school at the beginning of May “subject to health limitations and restrictions on the number of children in a classroom.” The treasury’s proposal was written without the input of the Education and Health ministries, and does not mention fourth-graders and up.

The Finance Ministry, Bank of Israel and National Economic Council are expected to present the National Security Council on Sunday with the plan for reopening the schools, in which the schools would begin operating partially next week. First Special Ed and preschools would reopen and two weeks later first to third grades would go back to school. The move from one stage to the next would be conditional on a number of targets, including keeping the rate of coronavirus infection down.

The plan would enable parents to return to work in over 384,000 households with children up to the age of nine. The document says that keeping at home children who cannot be left without supervision is causing serious damage to the economy because at least one of the parents must stay home from work. Even in families where the parents are working from home, their productivity has dropped because of the need to care for the children, states the document.

The Education Ministry presented a plan in the past few days in which some 50,000 Special Ed students would go back to school, with the rest starting later. They would study in small groups, and the schools would run separate morning and afternoon sessions – or instead two groups would each learn three different days a week. If school cannot be restarted for all ages, then the Education Ministry would prefer to start with preschools and the younger grades so parents can go back to work.

As opposed to proposals of the Finance Ministry, Bank of Israel and National Economic Council, the Education Ministry plan does not include a timetable for reopening all schools – and it is not clear how teachers would work under any of these plans, for example what would be the policy concerning teachers in high-risk groups. The Education Ministry proposal was written without the input of the Health Ministry, too.

The Israel Teachers Union said on Saturday that it has not been presented with any framework for opening the schools, and it will “not compromise on the safety and health of teachers in exactly the same manner we fought for the closure of schools.”

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