Israel Closes Schools Until After Pesach

Education Minister Rabbi Rafi Peretz (L) and Director-general of the Education Ministry Samuel Aboav. (Flash90, File)

Israeli officials have decided to close down the country’s schools to prevent further spread of the coronavirus, and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu‏‏ was expected to inform the nation in a broadcast on Thursday evening.

The closure, said to go into effect from now until after the Pesach recess, was the subject of high-level deliberations Thursday day at the Ministries of Health and Education and the National Security Council, and media reports said the decision has been made.

The pressure was on all day, especially from Teachers’ Union leader Yaffa Ben-David: “I call on the prime minister to show national responsibility for public health, including toward the country’s students, educators and their families, in order to stop the spread of the virus and the next victims,” she wrote in a message to education workers, in which she urged him to close all educational institutions, kindergartens and schools.

Earlier in the day, Education Minister Rabbi Rafi Peretz resisted the move, saying at a situations meeting at the ministry that:

“In accordance with a decision by the Health Ministry and the National Security Council, there is no need to cancel studies under the current situation. We are not taking unnecessary risks and on the other hand we are carefully preserving routine with clear instructions [on how to act].”

However, the consensus arrived at a policy of greater caution.

“There are more and more questions,” said Shmuel Abuav, director general of the Ministry of Education on Thursday. “As coronavirus turns into a mini-pandemic, it will require a lot of energy to disinfect schools and keep students, teachers and staff safe.” He said that schools are “non-sterile” and that the Ministry of Health was pushing for school closure.

The chareidi school system in Israel – both Chinuch Atzmai and Mayan Hachinuch HaTorani – already announced closing of classrooms on Thursday evening, ahead of the prime minister’s address.

That will keep some 160,000 students at home.

In addition, 52,000 kolel avreichim in the Mayan Hachinuch HaTorani network of 275 kollelim will suspend studies in Batei Midrashim beginning Friday.