Israeli Students Return to School Amid Surge in COVID-19 Cases

YERUSHALAYIM -
A classroom seen ahead of the school opening, at Orot Etzion School, in Efrat, Tuesday. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Over 2.4 million students went back to school Wednesday as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to rage on in Israel.

Education Ministry Director General Yigal Slovik said that about 250,000 students were in quarantine and could not take part in the first day of school.

“We must get used to living this way this year. The numbers will only go up but most students will continue to learn in person next to their friends, with teachers. Ninety percent of students are in school,” he said.

Grades 1-4 and kindergartens will study in person as usual. If a student is found positive for COVID, the students in the infected child’s class will switch to remote studies until the end of the isolation period due to the ineligibility of those under age 12 to receive the COVID vaccine.

Grades 5-7 will switch to a learning program that facilitates “reduced contact” between students. It includes studying in open spaces, distance learning and in-person studies in small groups. If someone is found positive for COVID, the students in the infected individual’s class will move to remote studies until the isolation period ends.

Grades 8-12 will study in person as usual. If a student is found positive for COVID, the students in the infected child’s class will move to remote studies until the end of the isolation period. In “red” communities with a high coronavirus infection rate, however, children in grades 8-12 will be forced to study remotely unless at least 70% of the students are vaccinated or have recovered from coronavirus.

Students in grades 8-12 who have been fully inoculated and therefore possess a Green Pass will be exempt from isolation in case of exposure to a verified patient.

On the first day of school, in order to reduce the risk of infection, parents were asked to submit a statement stating that their child has been tested and found negative for COVID.

Students up to the age of 12 will need to present a parental statement that states that their child had undergone an antigen test that returned negative.

According to the Compulsory Education Act, students who did not undergo COVID testing will still be able to attend school.

As per the Education Ministry’s decision, students aged 12 and up who have parental approval can get inoculated against COVID during school hours.

Students who received only the first jab of the vaccine will be considered “immunized” by schools until Sept. 30, after which two jabs will be needed to be considered fully vaccinated.

Teaching staff, meanwhile, will need to present a Green Pass in order to teach in person. Staff members who did not get inoculated will have to present a negative COVID test once every two weeks.

Unvaccinated teachers who are not willing to get tested for COVID will be prohibited from entering kindergartens and schools.

In order to reduce the chance of an outbreak in schools, students and staffers will have to adhere to the COVID restrictions, which include wearing a mask in class in all grades, social distancing, keeping the classroom well ventilated, maintaining hygiene and studying in open spaces.

The “Green Class” pilot – according to which a student who is found positive for COVID will go into isolation, while the rest of his or her class continue to study as usual while undergoing daily COVID tests for a week – is expected to run from Sept. 29 to Oct. 15.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton assured Tuesday that the government had formulated a thorough plan on the matter of opening the school year.

“I know that some parents have concerns that it won’t be easy, but we have a moral obligation to send the children back to school,” Shasha-Biton told reporters.

“We have formulated a plan together with the Health Ministry, followed up on by experts and professionals, and we will not hesitate to amend it and adapt to the ever-changing reality.”

Shasha-Biton said the ministry’s main goal for the 2021-2022 school year was to bridge the education gap created by studies disrupted due to COVID.

When asked about parents who refuse to vaccinate their children, the education minister said: “We need to look at the system and take care of all of the students. We called on the parents to vaccinate [their children]. We did what we could in order for the students to arrive at school inoculated. In the end, parents are the ones who decide what’s the right thing to do.”

As for the matter of unvaccinated teachers, she said it was “under legal investigation.”