Israel to Discuss Gradual Plan for Reopening Schools After Coronavirus Lockdown

Proposed plan would have some grades in towns with higher coronavirus infection rates study on alternate days and only outdoors

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Schoolchildren walk in Tel Aviv, last month.
Schoolchildren walk in Tel Aviv, last month.Credit: Hadas Parush

Israel's coronavirus cabinet is expected to discuss a plan on Sunday for gradually reopening schools as Israel exits its third nationwide lockdown.

According to the plan, made public on Sunday morning, kindergartens and grades one through four will return to school, along with grades 11 and 12, in communities designated “yellow” and “green,” meaning they have lower infection rates.

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In communities designated “orange” and “red” – with higher instances of the coronavirus – half of each class will come to school every other day, and classes will be held outdoors only. Grades five through ten will continue distance learning in all communities.

The plan was formulated on Saturday in a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the ministers of health, education and finance.

Education Minister Yoav Gallant told Haaretz on Sunday that the meeting was held after the Health Ministry insisted over the previous week that schools not open until after the Passover break. According to Gallant, in Saturday's meeting the Health Ministry initially agreed to reopen schools only partially [kindergartens, grades one through four, and grades 11 and 12] and only in so-called green and yellow towns, but eventually agreed to compromise and partially reopen schools, under strict regulations, in red and orange cities. It was not clear what the plan was for preschools.

School principals told Haaretz that questions they asked the Education Ministry about returning to the classroom have not been answered and that they are therefore not starting preparations for a return to school. According to Gallant, the Education Ministry's director-general will be speaking on Sunday to district administrators and directives will then be issued to principals so they can prepare for a return to classes on Tuesday.

Schools in communities with higher levels of infection will have half of each class study on alternate days, as not enough teachers were hired for students to study in small groups at the same time throughout the week. The last time a similar plan was proposed, mayors of various communities announced that they would operate their schools on a broader basis, based on their own considerations. The chairman of the Federation of Local Authorities in Israel, Haim Bibas, said on Sunday morning: “The education plan put together in the middle of the night between the Education and Health Ministries shows the total disconnect of the government from the grass roots. The time has come to stop upsetting the children and the parents – let the heads of the local authorities deal with the situation.”

With regard to allowing in-person learning in “red” and “orange” communities only outdoors, Gallant told Haaretz: “Clearly this is a better solution than the situation we were in before. On the other hand, it’s not perfect because it depends on the weather. We looked at the temperature map and it looks like it will be possible in terms of rainy days, and that’s what’s being done elsewhere in the world."

Health Ministry Director General Chevy Levy told the Kan public broadcaster Sunday that the easing of the lockdown restrictions, including the likely reopening of schools, was not done for political reasons. “We’re opening because we think that this risk should be taken at the moment. You can’t hold the whole country in lockdown for a month and a half, and therefore we’re trying to do something. If we fail – we fail, but it’s worth the try,” he said.

Lockdown restrictions began to be lifted on Sunday. Workplaces that do not receive public customers are able open, as well as one-on-one businesses like hairdressers and beauty salons. Restaurants are able to resume take-out services and bed-and-breakfast accommodations can reopen, as well as nature reserves and national parks. People are also no longer banned from traveling over a kilometer away from home or from spending time in someone else's home.

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