Israel's Coronavirus Cabinet to Debate Reopening Preschools, Kindergartens

The Education Ministry has not released its own plans for reopening schools; previous restrictions at the beginning of the school year proved unfeasible

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A preschool class in Givatayim during the first wave of the coronavirus, May 17, 2020.
A preschool class in Givatayim during the first wave of the coronavirus, May 17, 2020.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

The coronavirus cabinet will convene Tuesday to discuss a plan to reopen preschools and kindergartens Sunday, as part of a Health Ministry plan for exiting the lockdown.

The Labor and Social Affairs Ministry, which is responsible for preschools, said Sunday that it supports reopening them immediately, without requiring the organization of children into so-called pods, in light of the low incidence of infection in that age group.

Grades one through four would resume school in early November, under the Health Ministry’s plan. But higher grades would resume in-person studies only in late November.

The Education Ministry has not published any plans of its own for getting the schools up and running again. It hasn’t even said whether it plans to recommend that schools reopen fully or only partially, with students divided into pods.

Education Minister Yoav Gallant’s office said the ministry is waiting for the cabinet’s decision on the matter and will act accordingly.

In the plan the ministry released for the 2020-21 school year in the summer, the rule was that students from third grade up had to be divided into pods of no more than 18 students. There were also other rules intended to reduce the chance of infection, such as limits on teachers moving between groups.

But gradually, under pressure from principals as well as practical constraints, these restrictions were relaxed to the point where the pods became meaningless.

For instance, the rule published in mid-August was that teachers could circulate between no more than five classes or pods. But dozens of high school principals complained that this rule couldn’t be implemented, since in many schools, teachers responsible for specific subjects taught 10 different classes or more.

“I have a physical education teacher who works 22 hours a week,” the principal of a school in southern Israel told Haaretz at the time. “She teaches 11 classes, two hours each. Now that she can only teach five classes, what will she do with the remaining hours?”

Consequently, a day before the school year opened, the ministry canceled all restrictions on teachers moving between classes.

Similarly, the rules published in mid-August required students to remain in the same pod for the entire school day, including in after-school programs. But it quickly became clear that this wasn’t economically viable for the programs’ operators, since below a certain number of students, it didn’t pay them to open. Consequently, at the last minute, the ministry decided to let students from up to three classrooms mingle in after-school programs.

And in high schools, it turned out to be impossible for students to stay in the same pod when so many of them were taking different subjects. Consequently, the ministry decided at last minute to let students move between up to five different groups. Thus instead of interacting with only 17 other students, each high school student took classes with dozens of others.

The ministry also allowed one-day field trips with two classes together and overnight trips with up to 250 students, as long as each pod slept 50 meters apart.

Finally, despite the coronavirus cabinet’s last-minute decision at the start of the year not to open school in towns with a high incidence of the virus, the ministry decided that teachers and students living in such communities could still teach at or attend schools outside those towns.

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