Schools, kindergartens to gradually reopen from Sunday, deaths rise to 208

Approving plans presented by the Education Ministry at the meeting, the return of pupils will vary according to age group. Pre-school institutions for children aged 0-3 will also reopen their doors.

Pupils at Tiferet Chaya School for Girls in Elad (photo credit: Courtesy)
Pupils at Tiferet Chaya School for Girls in Elad
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Schools and kindergartens will gradually reopen from Sunday in a combined format of in-class and remote learning, cabinet ministers decided on Monday as they move to return the economy to normal operations.
The decision is conditional on the continued decline of infection rates, with full approval due on Friday.
Giving the green light to plans presented by the Education Ministry at the meeting, the return of pupils to school will vary according to age group. Children up to the age of six will return to kindergarten in small groups and attend on different days.
First- to third-graders will learn in school from Sunday through Thursday in groups limited to no more than 15 pupils. Break times will be staggered to ensure that groups do not meet each other.
Pupils in 4th to 12th grade will continue learning remotely at this stage, the government decided. Children who are deemed at-risk or live with family members considered at-risk will not return to in-school learning.
The decision to reopen schools follows a significant slowdown in new infections across the country. At last count, 208 Israelis had died from the coronavirus, with 15,589 cases had been confirmed. Currently, 117 patients are in serious condition, including 94 who require ventilation.
At last count, 7,375 patients had recovered, with 8,006 cases still active.
While the final details of the return to school have not been formally published, the government plans to recruit teacher trainees to increase the number of groups that can be taught in schools.
The 11th- and 12th-graders studying for their bagrut (matriculation exam) will take their exams in June and July, according to a plan published by the Education Ministry. The tests will be carried out in groups of no larger than 15 pupils, with a supervisor present in every classroom.
For students who require additional support ahead of the exams, including at-risk youth and new immigrants, special approval may be sought to hold “preparation marathons” in groups of up to 10 students.
“The education system is ready to return gradually and carefully,” Education Minister Rafi Peretz said following the decision, emphasizing that his ministry has done significant work to adapt the education system to Health Ministry guidelines.
“The fact that ministers and all professional bodies approve [our plan] speaks for itself,” he said. “We must be careful to ensure that educational institutions open carefully to avoid an outbreak.”
Despite the government decision, a number of subsidized daycare centers announced they would not welcome children next week, protesting a lack of financial assistance from the government. These include daycare centers operated by WIZO, Emunah, Na’amat, Nashei Herut, the Israel Association of Community Centers, Naot Margalit and Bais Yaakov.
Estimates published by the Bank of Israel last week showed that parents being absent from the workplace due to the closure of the education system costs the economy approximately NIS 2.6 billion per week.
There are about 400,000 households in Israel in which an employed parent is required to stay at home to supervise children who would otherwise be at school or kindergarten, the central bank stated.
The domestic tourism sector also is due to partially reopen next week. Ministers initially approved the opening of holiday homes (tzimmers) and ground-level hotels. Owners seeking to restore operations will be required to meet “purple badge” hygiene standards as defined by the Health Ministry.
“I applaud the step taken today, which is great news for many thousands of tourism-industry business owners and employees,” Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said. “For the first time since the outbreak of the crisis, a date has been set for their return to action.”
Tens of thousands of retail workers are expected to return to work after Independence Day. The Association of Fashion and Commerce Chains praised new government plans to allocate NIS 6 billion to help large retailers rehire employees currently on unpaid leave.
The association, which represents many of Israel’s largest retailers, refused to reopen stores this week without promises of assistance in rehiring employees and compensation based on lost revenues. The details of the government’s plan, announced on Sunday, will be announced in the coming days.
“The compensation announced [on Sunday] by the government is important and right, but it is incomplete,” the association said in a statement. “Despite that, we are opening our stores and returning to drive the economy forward and gradually bringing back our employees.”
Histadrut labor federation chairman Arnon Bar-David on Sunday called on the government to restore national train services. As the economy gradually returns to its routine, efficient services are required for employees traveling long distances to and from work on a daily basis.
Timetables for railway infrastructure work have been significantly shortened since all services were canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak, and the Transportation Ministry is reportedly eager to delay renewed services as it seeks to continue work on the tracks.
“I am saddened that the transportation minister does not understand the basic necessity of the public needing rail services to return to regular work and earn a living, especially at this time,” Bar-David wrote in a letter. “There is no room to deepen the difficulties and the economic crisis affecting the Israeli economy in general and the public in particular.”
In response to Bar-David, Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich said the letter was “populist and shallow” and accused the Histadrut head of demonstrating a “total failure of understanding” of railway operations.
He said restoring train services would be dependent on several parameters: the number of infrastructure projects on each line and their importance to passenger welfare; infrastructure timetables; demand for each service; and options for alternative travel arrangements.
The Courts Administration on Monday announced it would increase the number of hearings and operations it is handling by 20% next week. All persons in courtrooms would be required to don protective masks and abide by social-distancing regulations, it said in a statement.
The situation would be continually reviewed to explore when and whether operations could be increased or would need to be decreased again, it said.
The courts were exploring the possibility of canceling the traditional summer recess from mid-July to September in an effort to catch up with hearings that have been delayed since operations were reduced in mid-March.
Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report.