Schools Re-open in Israel

After nine weeks of closure, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered that schools be re-opened within 48 hours. On May 3rd the first phase of re-opening occurred. A national system of schooling, the Ministry of Education had issued numerous guidelines and directives for opening schools balancing health and safety with the need to get children learning and parents back to work.

But guidelines and directives are one thing; it is up to principals and teachers to do the daily work. Or as one teacher put it: “You can’t just turn on the faucet. You have to organize the school, disinfect the building, organize small groups, prepare lesson plans …. The most talented principal can’t do all this in the time allotted.”

And parents worried.

On the first day that Israel’s schools reopened nine weeks after closing to stop the spread of the coronavirus, Kalanit Taub’s 8-year-old daughter stayed home.

As a third-grader, her classes were among the first wave of those to resume. But her 10-year-old brother’s classes hadn’t yet resumed, and Taub was recalling how both children had been exposed to the virus at school back in March.

“If there is another exposure, what will we do?” she asked. “My husband and I are back to working at our workplace. Can we put the whole family in quarantine again? That would be hard. Can we put an 8-year-old by herself in a room for a week or longer while she is quarantined? If she gets sick, who would take care of her?”

The phased re-opening initially invited back children in first through third grades and students in the last two years of high school. Parents decided whether they would send their children to schools. Classes are capped at 15 (Israeli class sizes typically run near 30) and in daily session for five rather than the usual six hours a day. Children older than 7 must wear masks (see here and here). Keep in mind that about one-in-four Israeli students attend schools run by ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups.

Yet only 60 percent of enrolled children showed up on May 3rd. Some cities continued the shut-down; other cities complied. Below are some photos of children and teachers in schools and classrooms.

Israeli students wear protective face masks as they return to school for the first time since the outbreak of the Coronavirus. 1st-3rd graders returned to school this morning, with keeping social distance inside of hte classrooms, wearing face masks (exempted for 1st graders) and showing off doctor’s notes at the entrance to assure they are healthy on May 3, 2020 in Jerusalem. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90 *** Local Caption *** למידה מרחוק חינוך חופש תלמידים לומדים מושב אפרת מסכות חזרה ללימודים
Ultra orthodox jewish kids study at an Ultra-Orthodox school founded by Rabbi Shmuel Stern in Jerusalem on May 6, 2020. Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90 *** Local Caption *** תלמוד תורה בית ספר חרדים ילדים קורונה וירוס חרדים תלמוד תורה
High school class
Israeli high school class
Handing out masks to students
primary grade students
Israeli students at the Orot Etzion school in Efrat wear protective face masks as they return to school for the first time since the outbreak of the Coronavirus. 1st-3rd graders returned to school this morning, with keeping social distance inside of hte classrooms, wearing face masks (exempted for 1st graders) and showing off doctor’s notes at the entrance to assure they are healthy. May 3, 2020. Photo by Gershon Elinon/Flash90

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