Photo Credit: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90
Israeli schoolchild poses with her Covid-19 home kit test, September 1,2021.

The school year that opens on September 1 is the third under the shadow of the coronavirus. On March 13, 2020, schools in Israel were closed for the first time and the education system began a cumbersome and often frustrating switch to online, “Zoom” learning. It reopened two months later, and since then reopened twice more, in the last school year. And on Wednesday morning, as about 2.4 million students began the 5782 school year in the shadow of the high morbidity in Corona, about a quarter of a million of them will not study in classrooms, but in distance learning or in open spaces.

177,000 first-graders marched to school for the first time on Wednesday, and about 130,000 twelfth-graders will begin their final year in high school. According to the latest data, about 91,000 students and 4,213 staff are in isolation, either sick or tested positive, and another 150,000 students from the 8th to 12th grades start the year on Zoom because they live in red municipalities and their classmates are less than 70% vaccinated.

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Against the background of the recent surge in morbidity and the record-breaking daily number of individuals who tested positive for the Corona, health system experts are concerned that the opening of the school year will only increase infection throughout the country. Indeed, in the Haredi sector which opened its new year on the first of Elul, there has been a jump in the number of infections. This will now likely happen in all the other sectors.

A classroom in Orot Etzion School, Efrat, on the first day of the new school year, September 1, 2021. / Gershon Elinson/Flash90

But Health Ministry Director-General said Tuesday night that although there will be an increase in the number of infections with the start of the school year, “I hope this trend will change in a week or so.”

“I very much hope and also estimate that there will be no outbreak as a result of the opening of schools,” Ash told News12, but admitted that “we have been on a rising trend the entire recent time.”

“I don’t think it’s a gamble,” Prof. Ash added. “I think we are making an informed decision in line with government policy. We want to keep the economy open, the education system open. We are taking some steps to address this risk. We’re doing the quick tests, the Education Shield (weekly Corona testing – DI). In red areas, there’s no classroom learning unless the class is vaccinated. These are some steps I hope will reduce morbidity.”

Not exactly the stuff of confidence-building.

These are the main guidelines for the school year 5782:

  • Distance or open-air studies – only in red cities, from eighth grade and up, in classes with a vaccination rate of less than 70%
  • If a student turns out positive in a quick test – verify with a PCR test
  • It is allowed to accompany children to schools and kindergartens only with a green tag or proof of a negative test
  • Teaching staff are required to present a green tag or a negative test at the entrance to schools
  • Masks in the classroom are mandatory both during class and recess
  • If a student or teacher tested positive for Corona – anyone who has been with them in class and isn’t vaccinated is required to enter an isolation
  • Crowding limit in schools – 50 in a closed space, 100 in an open space
Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton at a press conference, August 31, 2021. / Miriam Alster/Flash90

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton said Tuesday night at a press conference: “I know some parents also have concerns and I also know it will not be easy, but we have a moral obligation to bring students back to stability.”

I have no idea what she meant by that. I also doubt that wearing a mask the whole day, in class and during recess, is going to usher anyone back to stability. I think that if anything, we have a moral obligation to give students a sense of safety, and that’s next to impossible when they—like every Israeli of all the sectors—are terrified. I think the Lapid-Bennett government did the math and decided that stability—economic and otherwise—trumps health and safety, and now all that’s left is to pray that their gamble doesn’t kill many people.

“We have a plan that was formulated together with the Health Ministry, and we will not hesitate to change it and adapt it to the evolving reality,” the Education Minister told the nation. She also said this year the focus in schools will be on reducing disparities.

“We will emphasize the emotional and social aspects of the students because these are the infrastructure for optimal learning,” she explained, and noted: “A child who is not available for learning will not reach achievements.”

Vaccinations are expected to begin Wednesday in 52 schools in 18 municipalities throughout the country, including Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, and Beit El. And some 500 additional schools have invited MDA staff to carry out vaccinations in the coming days.

Let us pray.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.