The education system is taking its first steps toward ending the lockdown, with the decision to reopen day care centers and kindergartens.
The conduct of the Netanyahu government raises the fear that the lessons that would preclude a third lockdown have not been learned. This is true for the resumption of early childhood education and also in regard to cooperation among government organizations, with the piratical declaration of many Haredi communities that they will in any event reopen educational institutions in “red” towns, those with high coronavirus infection rates. The fact that the Education Ministry continues to neglect the country’s 1.8 million schoolchildren, who are losing the school year to remote learning, is one more expression of the government’s mishandling of the crisis.
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On Friday morning the Education Ministry issued a brief announcement explaining how kindergartens will operate: The children will not be divided into so-called learning pods. They will attend six days a week, as usual, taught by the permanent staff. Staff members are to wear face masks or shields at all times. Substitute teachers and aides will be permitted to work in up to three schools, not six as in the past. Afternoon day care programs will include up to 35 children, in regular groups. A decision on whether to allows teachers and aides from “red” communities to work in “green” communities was postponed at the last moment.
Despite knowing that preschools would be the first to reopen, the relevant government ministries did not discuss significant alternatives to the format that was in place when the school year began, on September 1 – a format that contradicted the position of the Health Ministry and the recommendation of experts and was among the factors contributing to the decision two weeks later to impose the second lockdown. The experts recommended that children in kindergartens and afternoon day care be divided into permanent groups, with permanent staff members who are never exposed to children from other institutions and no mixing of the groups.
A few hours after the program was made public, the coronavirus cabinet extended the lockdown in red communities through Wednesday. However, it permitted kindergartens in red cities to reopen despite the warnings of Health Ministry experts who called this an “epidemiological danger.” This decision came against the background of a Haredi threat to defy directives and reopen their kindergartens and talmudei Torah (equivalent to elementary school).
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The health and education ministries must publish, within a few days, the conditions under which schools will reopen, first for the lowest grades. No less urgent is the need to draw up curricula for the various age groups that will address the inadequacies of distance learning. They must include, to the greatest extent possible, instruction in small groups and outside of the schools. For too many weeks students, parents and the educators themselves have been suffering as a result of an absence of planning and policy. The result is unprecedented educational and organizational chaos.