Seventh- through 10th-graders in 11 large Israeli cities returned to school on Wednesday, defying the government's decision that these grades should resume in-person learning only on March 7.
Health Ministry sources said the government is now considering allowing middle schools to reopen a few days earlier than that, in the middle of next week. The middle grades have been learning through Zoom for much longer than other grades have, spending less than a month in school since the school year opened in September.
Forum 15, an association comprising most of the country’s biggest cities, had announced on Sunday that its 15 members would return 7th through 10th grades to school in defiance of the regulations. On Wednesday, it announced that these grades in fact returned to school in 11 cities, including Haifa, Tel Aviv, Herzliya, Rishon Letzion and Givatayim.
“The principals and teachers are happy to see their students again,” its statement said.
But a few of the forum’s members backtracked on their decision to reopen school for these grades, including Be’er Sheva and Netanya. The Be’er Sheva municipality said the principals had decided to postpone reopening these grades until Monday, while Netanya said it’s obeying the cabinet’s decision.
Though few towns decided to follow the forum’s lead by defying the government, its rebellion seems to be a major reason why the Health Ministry is now considering reopening middle schools earlier than planned.
In its announcement on Sunday, Forum 15 said that 7th through 10th graders would attend school in small groups two or three times a week. The rest of the week, they would either continue learning by Zoom or meet outside in groups of 20, which is permissible under the existing regulations.
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The forum said this decision was justified by the “severe pedagogical, social and psychological impact” of distance learning on students, adding that each principal would decide on the exact means of reopening his or her school.
According to the Education Ministry, there are some 480,000 7th through 10th graders in towns where coronavirus infections are low enough that other grades have been allowed to reopen.
Several sources said that since Forum 15 made its announcement on Sunday, Education Ministry supervisors have been calling principals and warning them that they would be summoned to a disciplinary hearing if they reopened schools in defiance of the regulations. In at least one case, in north Tel Aviv, police even warned educators against reopening schools. And on Monday, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein publicly threatened action against mayors and principals whose schools reopened in violation of the regulations.
In contrast, enforcement has been notably absent against ultra-Orthodox schools that opened in defiance of the regulations.
On Tuesday, the national parents committee asked the High Court of Justice to order the immediate resumption of frontal learning for seventh to tenth graders. The petition argued that there was “no scientific, epidemiological, medical or other justification that could justify the continued damage to these children” of staying home until March 7.
“These children have been abandoned throughout the management of the crisis and have spent more time in distance learning than other grades, since they have had frontal learning for less than 20 days during the entire school year,” it added.