Defying Government, Israeli Cities to Reopen Grades 7-10 on Wednesday

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Israeli pupils arrive to school in the central Israeli city of Herzliya, Israel.
Israeli pupils arrive to school in the central Israeli city of Herzliya, Israel.Credit: Sebastian Scheiner,AP

Over a dozen cities said Sunday they plan to reopen their schools for grades 7 to10 Wednesday, and not on March 9 as the cabinet decided.

The announcement was made by Forum 15 – The Israeli Forum of Self-Government Cities (sic). It represents 15 fiscally autonomous communities, including Tel Aviv, Haifa and Be’er Sheva, but not Jerusalem. After the statement was released, Ramat Hasharon and the Gezer Regional Council said they would also join the move.

In-person classes will be held in small groups, two or three times a week, the forum said, with distance and outdoor learning continuing in accordance with current guidelines.

The forum said the change was based on the “pedagogical, social and mental hardship” caused by all-remote learning, adding that principals have the final say on whether and how to resume in-person classes. On Sunday, some schools held classes for 7th to 10th graders in malls, to protest the reopening of commerce before the full reopening of schools.

In a statement, the Teachers Union said that only the Education Ministry has the authority to decide whether to open or close schools, in consultation with the Health Ministry. On Thursday the Health Ministry rejected a request by Education Minister Yoav Gallant to reopen schools for grades 7-10 before March 9.

The heads of education departments in dozens of communities wrote to the coronavirus cabinet with the same request. “The mental, emotional, social and educational damage (of not being in school) is inconceivable,” they said in a letter.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai told principals in the city Sunday that the decision was up to them. “I’m not here to force, but to support,” he wrote. “I see you as the state’s educational leadership beacon, and I’m sure that you, like us, feel the pain over the educational system not being made the top priority as it should.”

Among the malls that hosted classes Sunday was the Grand Canyon Mall in Be’er Sheva, where middle school pupils from the Ramat Negev Secondary School held classes in small groups. They studied Bible and geometry, along with two subjects directly linked to the situation – a literature lesson focused on protest poetry, and a civics lesson that stressed civil protest. After the classes they stood in the mall’s court holding posters that read, “Education is more important than shopping.”

In Jerusalem, pupils from the Shaharit Secondary School, an experimental religious school, met in the morning at the Hadar Mall in the Talpiot neighborhood. “If the priorities are to open malls and leave the junior high pupils at home, we’ll study in the mall,” said a school official. Classes were also held in malls in Modi’in and Mevasseret Zion.

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