Editorial |

An F for Reopening Schools

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A student at the Cramim elementary school in Jerusalem on the first day back after the coronavirus lockdown, May 3, 2020.
A student at the Cramim elementary school in Jerusalem on the first day back after the coronavirus lockdown, May 3, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

The government assigned educators the task of restarting classes based on instructions they were meant somehow to divine from a series of contradictory discussions, leaks, decisions and guidelines that were still being fiddled with on Sunday morning, after schools had already opened.

It turns out that only around a quarter of first-through-third graders and 11th and 12th graders went back to school. That statistic is a stinging declaration of no-confidence in the government’s instructions on the part of local authorities, teachers and parents alike.

Nearly two months after schools were closed as part of the effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the chaos in the management of the educational system over the past several days makes it clear that Education Minister Rafi Peretz and his director general, Shmuel Abuav, have failed to manage the partial resumption of classes.

The disconnect between decision makers at the government level and those meant to implement the decisions isn’t new, but the coronavirus crisis has laid it bare. We have borne witness to late preparations, improvisation, last-minute decisions and capitulation to pressure groups. An example of the latter was the acceptance of Shas Chairman Arye Dery’s demand to have older pupils, ultra-Orthodox boys in grades 7 to 11, return to their yeshivas, while leaving the younger children at home. Millions of parents and children are paying the price for this.

Pupils are shown how to maintain social distancing, upon return to school after the COVID-19 lockdown, at Hashalom elementary in Mevaseret Zion, in the suburbs of Jerusalem, May 3, 2020.Credit: AFP

The plan for reopening the schools, which was approved by the government last Monday and addressed preschools and Grades 1 to 3, was only half-baked. A National Security Council report prepared for the discussion on Friday stated that the education system was not as yet prepared to reopen the schools: There were no regulations formulated for resuming classes, most of the buildings had not been cleaned and disinfected, no protective and hygienic equipment had been purchased for the teachers or the children, it wasn’t possible to divide the classrooms into “capsules” to accommodate smaller groups of pupils and the transportation system “can’t cope with an anticipated reality.”

Many problems remained unresolved, including that of teachers whose own smaller children’s daycare remained closed. Some of the instructions from the ministry got to the schools only on Saturday night, while still others were received as late as Sunday morning.

Obviously the cabinet isn’t interested in what really goes on in schools: That’s how it was decided only hours before Shabbat to return 11th and 12th graders to their classrooms, which didn’t allow the high schools time to properly prepare. The result was a decision that raised more questions than answers. Instead of taking responsibility, the Education Ministry decided to pass the buck to the local authorities, the schools’ educational staff and the parents.

These groups must essentially decide on their own whether to resume their pre-pandemic routine.

The return-to-school mishap makes it clear that the heads of the educational system are powered by inertia, with no central planning or even a responsible adult. Israelis deserve a better education system than this.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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