Government flip flops on third closure education rules

One nurse grumbled, “Between the cuts to public transportation [which are also part of the lockdown plan] and schools closing so early, how are healthcare workers supposed to do their jobs?”

Israeli children wearing face masks make their way to school in Tzfat on their first day back to classes on November 1, 2020 (photo credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90)
Israeli children wearing face masks make their way to school in Tzfat on their first day back to classes on November 1, 2020
(photo credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90)
The third closure, which is planned to start on Sunday, includes a compromise regarding the education system, but no one seems to be satisfied and it is generating controversy.
Originally, the proposal was for preschools and grades 1-4 and 11-12 to stay open but only study from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m., while children in 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. Thursday afternoon, the government changed its mind and decided that those going to school could remain there for regular days.
In the morning, experts were trying to understand the logic behind the specifics of the short-day regulation.
Dr. Alexander Gileles-Hillel, a pediatrician who specializes in pulmonology at Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem, said 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.”
He added, “In areas that are green, there is no reason at all to close the schools.”
Parents pushed back and were particularly upset over the schedule, wondering how they would manage to work. One nurse grumbled: “Between the cuts to public transportation [which are also part of the lockdown plan] and schools closing so early, how are healthcare workers supposed to do their jobs?”
Many were skeptical of the reasoning behind sending children home from school at 1 p.m. as well as why older teens, who have an infection rate similar to adults, will be back in school but children in grades 5-10 won’t.
Emily Barr, a mother of children who fit into both categories – some of her children will be going back to school while others will not – said: “So illogical. The 5th through 10th 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.”
Parents of preschool children had a different objection: the original end time of 1 p.m., they explained, is nap time for most little ones. Hannah Pasternak-Shames, a Jerusalem mother, said, “Whoever made this rule has obviously not been around very little kids for a long time, and did not consider, or did not care, that they are often napping at 1p.m.” She said she would probably have to pick up her son earlier so she could put him to sleep at home.
Yarden Hareven, a mother of three from Jerusalem, said: “Besides being completely pointless, as the younger kids don’t get exposed to more people between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., it seriously shortens my work day, and causes the kids not to nap and be cranky.”
The mayors of some cities and towns announced Thursday they would not comply with the plan. Haim Tzuri, the mayor of Kiryat Motzkin, said preschools in the city will operate during the closure until 4 p.m. He said: “Despite the delusional decision to operate the preschools until 1 p.m., I decided to operate them during normal hours.” Earlier, Bat Yam Mayor Zvika Brut also said that he intends to operate the education system during normal hours during the closure and that he is examining the legality of doing this.
Some teaching staff have a different problem with the plan: They are afraid of going in to work during the midst of the outbreak. Yaffa Ben-David, the head of the Israeli Teachers Union, said in a statement that teachers should not have to work during lockdown until they have all been vaccinated. “Making an exception of the education system during the closure without providing the education staff with means of protection and guidelines that can be applied in practice is irresponsibility. Vaccinating teaching staff should be expedited and solutions to difficulties and hardships in the field should be found. Instead the Education Ministry wants to send them to the front again without any response.”
Education Minister Yoav Gallant addressed the issue of vaccinations for teachers in a Facebook post on Thursday afternoon: “Leaving the education system open requires prioritizing and vaccinating education and teaching staff as soon as possible. More than a week ago, I turned to the coronavirus commissioner, Prof. Nachman Ash, to place teaching staff alongside health care workers and give them priority in receiving vaccines. Only in this way can we ensure a healthy and optimal learning routine. The education system fills a vital need and for the national security of us all.”
While this compromise on education in the third lockdown may not have pleased everyone, Gileles-Hillel said, “It’s reassuring that the education system has seen that children are not driving this pandemic and are keeping the schools open.”


Tags education