Government Ditches Half-Day School After Objections

YERUSHALAYIM -
Israeli Minister of Education Yoav Galant. (Avshalom Shoshoni/Flash90)

The government backed down on Thursday from its half-day lockdown plan for the lower school grades after parents, teachers and medical experts rejected it as illogical and unjustified.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Education Minister Yoav Gallant, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Defense Minister Benny Gantz decided to have grades 1-4 and 11-12 maintain a normal school day, and have kindergartens operate normally as well.

Grades 5-10 will not be attending classes in person at all and will study remotely.

Initially, ministers decided that preschools and grades 1-4 and 11-12 would be in school from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m., while other grades stay home. The rationale was that there is no reason to keep young children at home, since their rate of infection is extremely low, while those in the last two years of high school have to prepare for their matriculation exams.

The schedule was met with a storm of objections, especially after reports that there was no epidemiological reason for the restriction, and that it was proposed merely to “create a feeling of a lockdown” among the public.

Dr. Alexander Gileles-Hillel, a pediatrician who specializes in pulmonology at Hadassah-University Medical Center in Yerushalayim strained to understand the government’s original thinking. He told The Jerusalem Post that the main justification he could see for the original 1 p.m. closure was that it would be best if children were with one group of staff all day. In situations where different staff members or teachers would come in for the afternoon, there would be more chance of the virus spreading.

In schools where the same staff worked with the children all day, “There is no reason why more of them would get infected between 1p.m. and 4 p.m. . . . Studies have shown that children above 10 are slightly more infectious to others and may drive the infection higher if the base rate in the surrounding community is high. But I’m not sure if fourth grade is the limit. And definitely the situation could be improved with learning outdoors and strict capsules with no mixing.”

Others asked why send children home from school at 1 p.m., and why should older teens, who have an infection rate comparable to adults, will be back in school while grades 5-10 will stay home.

Emily Barr, a mother with children of varying ages, spoke for many others, saying, “So illogical. The fifth through tenth graders staying home bored and lonely is really going to save lives. . . Really unhealthy for the mental health of our children. When I say our [children], I mean an entire nation.”