Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will hold a meeting on Monday to discuss various strategies for a gradual return to school for Israel’s students, his office announced in a statement on Sunday.
The plan could see some students head back to school next week.
On Sunday, ahead of the hearing, Acting Director-General of the Prime Minister’s Office Ronen Peretz and National Security council deputy head Eitan Ben David will hold a series of preliminary discussions with Education Minister Rafi Peretz and Education Ministry Director-General Shmuel Abuav, as well as representatives of the National Security Council, Health and Finance ministries and other relevant bodies.
The Education Ministry has proposed a plan that would gradually reopen the education system and see thousands of preschoolers and young elementary school kids return to class in the coming weeks.
According to the proposal, preschools and kindergartens will reopen on May 3 and children will attend in groups of 15. Each group will attend for half of each week to limit the spread of the virus.
Students in first through third grades would also return to school in groups of 15, with school officials staggering recesses to keep playgrounds from overcrowding.
Students in fourth grade through high school would continue remote learning programs.
The Education Ministry’s Abuav said Saturday that high schoolers studying for the bagrut matriculation exams may be able to do so in small groups of 10.
The report of the plan came as Israel was readying to take its biggest step toward reopening its economy, allowing many nonessential businesses to reopen on Sunday for the first time in a month, as new virus cases and numbers of seriously ill have steadily declined in recent weeks.
In Israel, where most parents both work full time, reopening the economy would necessitate a solution for younger children who cannot be left unsupervised. The Bank of Israel said Thursday that the shutdown of the education system was costing the economy around NIS 2.6 billion ($737 million) per week as many households have had to keep one parent tending to children instead of working.
The government last week allowed special education students to return to class under similar directives capping class sizes.
Abuav said that some 25,000 special education pupils returned to school over the past week in small groups of three “and it’s only the beginning.”
Schools have been shut since mid-March as the government began imposing wide restrictions on movement in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Most teachers have continued to teach via teleconferencing, though the program has been met with reports of only middling success.
According to the Education Ministry proposal, teachers will teach remotely on a half-time basis starting May 3 and complete the other half during summer break, which normally takes place in July and August.
Last week, after the IKEA furniture giant was allowed to reopen some of its megastores in Israel, Education Minister Rafi Peretz reportedly told Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov that “it cannot be that IKEA is open while schools remain closed.”
The Health Ministry on Saturday defined new parameters on which to base its decisions regarding the easing or tightening of restrictions on the public and the economy, amid widespread criticism of a confused decision-making process.
According to Hebrew media reports, any of the following conditions will likely result in increased restrictions, while remaining below these thresholds will promise continued relief:
- Over 300 new sick people per day (numbers have hovered between 200 and 300 in recent days, though they did pass 500 on Wednesday, possibly due to a backlog of tests);
- Over 300 seriously ill patients (currently 130 are in serious condition);
- A doubling of the national number of sick every 10 days or less (currently cases are doubling around every 20 days).
Should these conditions come to pass, they could derail plans for a gradual return to studies. On April 20, Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov said that that his ministry was preparing for the possibility of another coronavirus outbreak next winter, and cautioned that such an outbreak would be “much more complicated and challenging” than the current one.