Israel's Education Ministry Unveils Scenarios for Opening School Year Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Which grades resume distance learning, class sizes and other considerations all dependent on local rates of coronavirus infection

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Children wear masks in an elementary school classroom in Givatayim, May 3, 2020.
Children wear masks in an elementary school classroom in Givatayim, May 3, 2020.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

The Education Ministry presented its scenarios for opening the school year in light of the rise of coronavirus infection on Wednesday, each based on different levels of economic lockdown. In the worst case scenario, students from fifth grade and up will study only through distance learning, and lower grades and preschools will be divided into small groups.

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A professional committee established by Education Minister Yoav Gallant formulated the proposals over the past few weeks as part of the ministry’s preparations for the planned start of the school year on September 1.

According to the scenario for the lowest level of coronavirus infection, the school year will open almost as usual. Schools and preschools will use the same frameworks as before, but with “improved means of protection”: Transparent masks will be provided for teachers and different age groups will be separated within buildings. Middle schools will combine regular classes with online learning – according to the rate of infection. The ministry will work to provide computers and install digital infrastructure.

In the second scenario, students from fifth through 12th grade will learn remotely and will not come to school at all. First through fourth grade students will take in-person classes in smaller groups, by using the empty upper grade classrooms. This will require additional teaching staff – and it is unclear at this stage where these additional teachers will come from and what training they will receive.

In the worst case scenario, fifth through 12th grades will learn remotely, first through fourth grade students will be divided into smaller groups, and kindergarten and preschooler classes will be divided in two, also making use of free classrooms. This will require adapting these classrooms for small children, in addition to a larger number of teachers and aides.

Implementing these plans could differ from one town to the next, according to the local infection rates. The cost of operating the various plans is about 1 billion shekels, and setting up the program will require another 2 billion shekels for recruiting staff, equipping schools with digital tools and purchasing protective and hygiene products, said the Education Ministry.

Haim Bibas, the mayor of Modi’in and the chairman of the Federation of Local Authorities, said that carrying out the ministry’s plans – which include preparing buildings throughout the country – will require a 4 billion shekel budget. “Without preparation and full and immediate funding, opening the school year is still uncertain,” said Bibas.

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