Israel's School Year Begins: What Happens When a Kid Tests Positive for COVID?

Over 2 million children and more than 200,000 teaching staff begin the new school year on Wednesday under strict COVID-19 measures. Haaretz explains how they affect school life

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Students in Afula on their way to school as new school year starts, today.
Students in Afula on their way to school as new school year starts, today.Credit: Gil Eliahu
Or Kashti
Or Kashti

Under a host of regulations dictated by the coronavirus pandemic, about 2.3 million children and 220,000 teaching staff will begin the new school year in Israel Wednesday. Here's how they will affect students, parents and school staff members.

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Will students need to present a negative coronavirus test Wednesday morning?

Students have been asked to turn in a form, signed by their parents, confirming they have taken a rapid antigen swab test, and that the results of which were negative. However, these tests are only considered a recommendation on the part of the Education Ministry. Students cannot be barred from school for failing to submit the form or to take the swab test, as long as they were not in contact with a COVID-19 patient during the past two weeks.

In addition, over the past week, home test kits were distributed to all students in the country aged three to 16, including children who have been vaccinated or who have recovered from COVID-19.

Will schools in red communities – with high coronavirus infection rates – open for in-person instruction?

Kindergartens (including afternoon care) and grades one to four will operate as usual.

Grades five to seven will move to a so-called restricted contact format, at the discretion of the principal or director. That may involve moving classes outdoors, reducing class sizes or a hybrid in-person and remote format.

In grades eight to 12, classes in which at least 70 percent of students are vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19, in-person instruction will continue as usual; if that rate is under 70 percent, classes will switch to outdoor or distance learning.

In-person learning will continue as usual in educational frameworks for special education and at-risk teens.

How can students and parents find out which communities are categorized as red?

The Health Ministry will publish, every Thursday by 2 P.M., a list of communities and neighborhoods with their assigned colors. The designation goes into effect the following Sunday and remains in effect until Saturday evening.

Which students are considered immune?

During September, students who have only received one vaccine dose will be considered immune for the 70-percent minimum to hold in-person classes. However, these children are not exempt from the need to isolate in the event of contact with a confirmed coronavirus carrier. Thus, starting October 1, only students who have received at least two doses of the vaccine will be considered vaccinated for the purposes of in-person learning.

In addition, students who have recovered from COVID-19 or have developed antibodies to the virus will also be counted for the 70-percent threshold for in-person learning.

How can we know which classes have hit the 70-percent threshold?

Principals will have access to official data on the Health Ministry website that shows this information.

Will students who have been exposed to a confirmed carrier at school have to quarantine?

Starting October 1, students who have had at least two vaccine doses or have recovered from COVID-19 won't have to isolate. All others – except for participants in the Green Classroom pilot program – will be asked to quarantine for 14 days. Quarantine period can be shortened to seven days after two negative tests for the virus. 

What's the Green Classroom pilot?

This program, which will include just seven classrooms in the entire country, will permit students who have come in contact with a confirmed coronavirus patient or carrier to continue to attend school in-person, subject to a negative result on a rapid swab test administered in-school every day for a week.

After the pilot ends, on October 15, a decision will be made regarding the program's future.

Can unvaccinated staff members be kept out of schools?

Teaching staff must present a Green Pass – practically showing a proof of full vaccination or recovery from COVID-19. Alternatively, they can present a negative result of a rapid antigen test carried out at an official testing station – not a home testing kit.

The result of this test is valid for 48 hours from the time it is administered. This means that unvaccinated teaching staff – about 37,000 people throughout the country – must take two such tests every week. Unvaccinated teachers who refuse to be tested will probably be placed on unpaid leave.

The Education Ministry has not yet decided who will pay for these tests.

Will students be inoculated in schools?

The Health Ministry, and not the Education Ministry, is the governing body responsible for vaccinating people. And while the coronavirus cabinet approved the administration of vaccines in schools starting September 1, the Education Ministry didn't address it in its plan for the new school year.

Vaccination procedure will be conducted by the Israeli national emergency service, however mobile vaccination units can only enter school premises after at least 50 parents give their consent to inoculate their children.

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