Israel closed down its society and economy because of the coronavirus outbreak earlier and more completely than the United States. So perhaps it’s not surprising that Israel has already started opening its schools to children who have been cooped up at home for the last couple of months. The school year is expected to end July 13 this year.
The gradual school opening has not occurred without some controversy and a few glitches. Many parents hesitated to send their youngsters to preschools and daycare centers that partially opened May 10. And, after grades first through third and 11th and 12th resumed partial studies, students and faculty in one school in Rehovot had to quarantine themselves after a teacher tested positive for COVID-19, the illness that resulted from the coronavirus. That school was to remain closed until May 27.
Still, as of May 17, full-time classroom activities resumed for private daycares, kindergartens and the previously opened grades in much of the country. Teaching in grades fourth through 10th grades were expected to resume May 19, except in areas that suffered widespread illness.
The expansion of school openings followed guidelines approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in conjunction with the National Security Council, the Health Ministry, the Finance Ministry and the Federation of Local Authorities and Regional Council Center. Each municipality was given some flexibility to set its own opening schedule.
The 10-point plan announced by the prime minister’s office May 14 stated that the country’s education system would begin fully opening “from age 0” except in areas that were centers of morbidity – which were mostly in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods and cities. An evaluation of these cities will be updated by June 1.
In the schools themselves, “hygiene will be fully and strictly maintained in accordance with Health Ministry directives,” including hand washing and maximum separation in the lavatories. During recess, all students are required to wear masks, while pupils in grades four and higher must also wear their masks during classes.
Classrooms windows are also required to be open. However, after the country experienced a heatwave in mid-May, the Education Ministry asked the Health Ministry to reexamine the requirement of wearing masks. Subsequently, that requirement was relaxed.
In addition, students will be required to maintain two meters, or about six feet, distance from each other during meals and other activities. Breaks between classes will be staggered to minimize the number of students in the corridors.
Even before entering the schools, each student is required to present a declaration of health.
Recognizing that the opening of the schools and society could result in another wave of illness and death, the prime minister’s office set up a team to prepare the educational system for that possibility. Currently, the school year is expected to end July 13.