Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel / Flash 90
Children in Mevaseret Zion return to school. May 17, 2020

On September 1, nearly 1.5 million Israeli children are set to return to their classrooms; but for those living in “red” cities with high COVID-19 morbidity, it isn’t quite as simple.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz announced in a joint statement Monday night that an agreement was reached on a plan for increasing vaccinations and reducing morbidity among Israeli pupils until the opening of the school year.

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The goal of the plan, Bennett said, is to reduce morbidity and prevent the need to close institutions of learning. Following are the details:

  • Grades 8-12: In red cities, classes in which the vaccination rate is over 70 percent will have frontal learning; classes in which the vaccination rate is less than 70 percent will switch to online remote learning.
  • The vaccination threshold will include vaccinated pupils, pupils who have recovered and pupils with positive serological (antibody) test results.
  • The Education Ministry this month committed itself to enabling all 1.5 million students to learn physically in the schools, without capsules.
  • Every elementary school is to have a “health trustee” who will oversee ensuring the health of those in the school, staff and students.

Children from preschool to grade 7 will learn according to the five-point ‘Magen Chinuch’ plan designed to help keep the children safe while preserving their ability to study.

Students in the country’s strictly Orthodox Jewish education system have already begun their classes this month, at the start of the Hebrew month of Elul. They are already participating in this plan.

1: Serological Testing
A brief blood test taken from the finger will be administered to unvaccinated children ages 3 to 12 to determine whether they have virus antibodies. The results from the blood test – which is NOT mandatory, and which requires parental consent — are produced within 15 minutes.

If the child does have antibodies, it means he or she were previously infected with COVID-19, even if they were unaware.

Such a child will automatically receive a Green Pass and will be exempt from any necessary quarantine if a child in their classroom becomes infected with the coronavirus.

2: Rapid Antigen Testing
Between August 27 and September 1, parents are being asked to screen their children from preschool through grade 9 at home with rapid antigen / PCR tests that are being provided to local schools by the Education and Health Ministries.

Parents are asked to report the results of the test to their schools. If a child tests positive, the family will be asked to take the child for a standard PCR test – and to place the child in quarantine. Those who tests return with negative results can go to school as usual.

3: Green Class Model
Even if a child tests positive in a classroom, it does not have to mean the entire class enters quarantine.

Instead, the infected student will immediately self-isolate and those who were exposed – students and staff – will be asked to test daily for the virus with the rapid antigen test. On the first and last days, however, they will be given a standard PCR test.

Those whose findings are negative will remain in school. Those whose results come back positive will instead enter quarantine.

Anyone who refuses to be tested will automatically be required to enter quarantine.

For those students who cannot be in class, the school will be responsible for providing Zoom access or recorded lessons.

The bad news: if more than five verified cases are identified in one day at one school – or a total of 10 cases within a three-day period – the school may be closed by the district manager after consultation with the district physician, the local authority and with approval from the Education Ministry director-general.

4: Magen Chinuch (Education Shield) for Red, Orange Cities
Every Wednesday, the Health Ministry will publish a list of the cities whose status has become red or orange in accordance with the ministry’s Traffic Light system.

Unvaccinated students or those who have recovered will be tested once a week in these cities to track any possible outbreak.

Students in preschool, first grade through sixth grade and in after-school programs in red/orange cities will learn as usual with their classes.

If those who are exempt from quarantine comprise more than 50 percent of their seventh to ninth grade classes, they will be able to learn as usual. If the number is less than 50 percent, students may be asked to move to capsules, learning outdoors or in a hybrid format with remote learning while testing is conducted. In grades 10 through 12, more than 70 percent must be exempt from quarantine for the class to remain in regular format.

5: Masking Up
Every student in grades 1 through 12 will be required to always wear a mask in the classroom and at indoor educational activities, except during exams and gym classes.

Students will also be required to mask up on their school buses, and in any outdoor setting in which there are more than 100 people.

Learning in open spaces and outdoors will be encouraged as much as possible, along with regular reviews on hygiene.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.