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Many students will be left behind without a Green Passport – a lesson I learned as my own child was quarantined this week

Israel's latest rules – designed to stem the spread of Omicron – add a new layer of pressure to parents and children alike

Illustrative - Israeli children in school in Modi'in, central Israel, Oct. 12, 2021. (Photo: Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

As the months wear on, I face the conundrums and challenges of Israel’s (mostly failed and entirely illogical) COVID policies with a tad bit of humor. Or maybe sarcasm.

To do anything else may lead to depression.

Clearly, humor is a coping mechanism that helps some of us wade through the morass of policies that change with the wind, policies which even the health minister was caught as saying had no epidemiological reasoning behind them. Yet they impact our ability to travel, shop and participate in leisure activities. And go to school.

The latest life example went something like this:

Saturday night, a few hours after Shabbat (and Christmas) came to an end and with a new week on the horizon, my phone rang. It was one of my three children’s teachers. After the usual greetings, Miriam got to the point.

Teacher: “I have some bad news. One of the teachers at the school has tested positive for COVID. That means anyone who was in his class that day has to go into quarantine.”

Me: Sigh. “For how long?”

Teacher: “Two weeks with the option to shorten the quarantine to one week after two PCR tests – one now and the second on the seventh day… Except for those kids who have a Green Passport.”

Me: “Excuse me?”

Teacher: “Students and staff who have a Green Passport can come back to class tomorrow and they do not have to quarantine.”

Me: WHAT??!!! “Tell me, the teacher who tested positive for corona – was he vaccinated?”

Teacher: “Yes. Despite the vaccine, he caught it.”

Me: “But he has a Green Passport?”

Teacher: “Yes, of course.” (Those who do not have a Green Passport must undergo regular testing at their own expense in order to maintain their jobs.)

Me: “Okay, I’m confused, but let me try to understand: The teacher is vaccinated and boosted, but he caught corona and potentially infected the kids in the class. But the people he came in contact with who have a Green Passport (like him) are exempt from quarantine? And they can potentially infect others just as this teacher may have? But my healthy child has to remain at home waiting for symptoms to crop up, or not? Is that correct?”

Teacher: “Yes, it seems so.” Pause. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Well, in her defense, little in the last 21 months has made sense and she didn’t set the policies.

Yet on Monday, my son joined about 70,000 other hapless children across Israel who – suddenly – were barred from school this week thanks to a new educational framework designed to address concerns (hysteria?) over the more-contagious but less-symptomatic Omicron variant.

Grades 7 through 12 are now subject to more stringent geography and algebra equations which stipulate that if a school is situated in a “red” city and fewer than 70% of the students are vaccinated or recovered, they are relegated to distance learning. This happened automatically to tens of thousands on Monday.

Grades 1 through 6, however, are still able to learn in school for now even if they are in a highly infectious “red” city. The COVID-19 vaccine has only been available to them for about a month and the government is conducting a nationwide in-school vaccination campaign which began in earnest this week.

After they have had ample opportunity to be vaccinated, grades 1 to 6 will fall under the same rules: Schools with less than a 70% vaccination rate will be sent home. The specter of distanced learning – kids at home on Zoom and not being able to work – will render parents desperate for Green Passports for their children.

With Green Passports, students will be able to bypass quarantines and stay in school despite coming into contact with a COVID patient.

And for those in “red” cities, this will increase peer pressure (among parents and children alike) to achieve a 70% vaccination rate so the school itself can remain open.

After nearly two years of lockdowns and uncertainty, parents truly just want routine for themselves and their children. And the Green Passport is the promised ticket to just that.

Those who take their chances with COVID itself will be left behind.

My son had immediate contact with a person who has COVID, who thankfully is in good condition. But this boy, and my other son, cannot get this disease no matter how hard they try – and trust me, they tried. When my husband, daughter and myself had the virus, our two boys resiliently defied it. In fact, one of them – savvy to the quarantine rules – was desperate to get a positive result so he snuck sips from my glass and used my fork in hopes of testing positive and getting out of quarantine earlier.

Despite his best efforts, he never caught COVID and remained in quarantine a full 14 days after the three of us, who were sick, were released. That was 24 days in total of being confined to our tiny Jerusalem apartment.

He cried upon receiving the negative results.

I wonder what message we are sending children that getting sick is preferable and that healthy children get punished by remaining indoors longer, deprived of sunlight, relationships and education. It didn’t make sense to a 9 year old. And I can’t say he is wrong.

Now these children (and their parents) – well aware of the confusing and onerous quarantine rules – are subject to another level of pressure as the vaccines roll out at the schools. The mark of the “healthy” and the free is the Green Passport – the ticket to in-school learning and normalcy.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had to break his own quarantine – and his own rules – due to a parliamentary procedure, and despite his dire warnings that thousands upon thousands of Israelis will become ill in the next few weeks.

But if he left his own isolation, perhaps Bennett is not as concerned about the spread of this variant as his speeches make him seem.

And in any case, I hope we can all dispense with fear and inconsistency and allow the kids to go back to school.

Nicole Jansezian was the news editor and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS.

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