image Photo: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO

2.5m Israeli kids begin school

Israeli President Isaac Herzog and First Lady Michal Herzog today presided over the opening of the new school year, which is beginning under the shadow of a resurgence of the coronavirus pandemic. The nation’s first couple were greeted by pupils, who sang and waved national flags, at the Inbalim Elementary School in the central city of Modi’in Maccabim Re’ut.

By Erin Viner 

“It is truly a holiday, a festival, to open the school year and see you, dear pupils. In the whole of Israel, nearly 2.5 million pupils are going to school today. This is especially exciting given the circumstances, with COVID,” proclaimed President Herzog, according to a statement TV7 obtained from the President’s International Spokesperson Eylon Levy.

Incoming first graders shared their enthusiasm over the coming academic year with the Israeli leader, including the return to classrooms amid recent changes and the uncertainty of the COVID pandemic.

“We are at peak excitement, and in our hearts we pray for a good, productive, and healthy year. We have an excellent education system, excellent schoolteachers and principals, kindergarten teachers and assistants. Their success is our success and the success of our future,” commented President Herzog, while he underscored, “And don’t forget: get vaccinated, wear a mask, get tested. Look after yourselves – and look after us.”

He also used the occasion to stress, “In this period, with our lives and the country gripped by the COVID pandemic, I call on all parents, teachers, and pupils again: anyone who can get vaccinated, go get vaccinated. That is how we can ensure as normal a routine as possible. I wish all of us a good new year, a year of health to the whole People of Israel and all its diverse groups.”

Mask mandates for both students and staff remain in effect at all Israeli educational facilities, as well as instructions to maintain social distancing, well ventilated classrooms, hygienic practices and learning in open spaces.

Parents were required to submit statements declaring that their children under the age of 12 – who are too young to be inoculated – had been tested and found negative for COVID.

All faculty must be inoculated or test negative for COVID after undergoing testing every 2 weeks. Those who refuse testing are barred from entering any educational facilities.

In accordance with the nation’s guidelines, all Kindergarten and Grades 1-4 will attend class in person. In the event that a student is found to be infected with COVID, all classmates must switch to remote studies until the end of a quarantine period.

5-7 graders have been instructed to observe a “reduced contact” curriculum such as studying in open spaces, distance learning or in small groups. The entire class would be also forced to conduct remote studies until the end of a quarantine phase if one student has become infected.

In areas with low COVID rates, normal class has resumed for Grades 8-12. While a student is found positive for the pathogen would have to switch to remote learning, his/her classmates who have been fully inoculated will be exempt from isolation.  This differs from policy regarding areas with higher infection rates, where remote learning will be enforced unless a minimum of 70% of the students have been vaccinated or recovered from the disease.

As many as 250,000 students are in currently in quarantine and unable to attend the first day of class, said Education Ministry Director General Yigal Slovik. After cautioning, “We must get used to living this way this year” as the number of infections are likely to rise, he went on to emphasize that “most students will continue to learn in person next to their friends, with teachers. 90% of students are in school.”