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Under the shadow of COVID and despite spiking infections, Israeli students return to school

Prime minister says Israel will do its best to keep schools open, but no guarantees

Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy visits the Max Rayne Hand in Hand School in Jerusalem as students across Israel return to in-person learning on Sept. 1, 2021. (Photo: Noam Moskowitz/Knesset)

One day after Israel recorded its highest number of COVID infections in a single day, 88% of Israel’s 2.45 million students went back to school on Wednesday as the academic year started on schedule.

The government was determined to open up the year despite a fourth wave of the coronavirus and some 250,000 students in quarantine, according to the Education Ministry.

In order to prevent an anticipated immediate spread of viral infections on the first day of school, the government supplied home COVID test kits for all students the day before school to make sure students who tested positive didn’t show up for class.

The testing was voluntary and some parents who spoke with ALL ISRAEL NEWS said their schools didn’t even ask for the results. Two weeks ago, Israel also rolled out serological testing for children 12 and under to determine if any had COVID antibodies which would exempt them from quarantine.

This school year, parents are allowed to enter school grounds – but only if they have a green passport which is proof of vaccination or COVID recovery. Two parents who spoke with ALL ISRAEL NEWS said the schools did not check parents’ green passports while another parent said the school did ask to see it.

Another controversial issue is that at-school COVID vaccination will begin tomorrow despite prior opposition from Minister of Education Yifat Shasha-Biton. The attorney general’s office issued an order overruling the education minister and enabling the director general of the Health Ministry to order medical teams to enter schools, even during class hours, and administer vaccinations.

The availability of vaccines at schools is expected to bolster Israel's booster-shot campaign. The third shot was just made available to all eligible age groups in Israel, from 12 years old.

Teachers who are unvaccinated or refuse to be tested every few days may also be restricted from schools since the education system now falls under the Green Passport rules. This is likely to lead to a standoff between the teachers’ union and the Education Ministry.

Ran Erez, chairman of the Teachers Association, said the plan to “prevent the entry of educational staff to their work is inexplicable in every way.”

The Education Ministry has demanded a list of teachers who are not vaccinated in order to prepare for the possible need of backup staff to replace them, according to Channel 13.

Despite all of the precautions that Israel has taken in starting the school year on time, health officials are predicting a rise in infections from the schools plus the Jewish new year which begins on Monday evening.

“I pledge, as prime minister, that we will continue to make super efforts so that all Israeli pupils can learn,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said during a visit to a school in Yeroham today. “We cannot guarantee the result, but we can guarantee 100% effort. This is what the education minister, the Health Ministry and all of us did together to reach this day.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton welcome students back to a school in Yeroham on the first day of the academic year on Sept. 1, 2021. (Photo: Haim Zach/GPO)

Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy visited the Jerusalem Max Rayne Hand in Hand School, a bilingual Hebrew-Arabic school, on Wednesday. 

“I am happy to see the school year opening on schedule and seeing our pupils learning with their friends in school, instead of online. It is important for their development as well as mental wellbeing,” he said.

He praised the “bilingual and multicultural approach” of Hand in Hand which, he said, helps students recognize each other’s uniqueness.

“Visiting the school and witnessing Jewish and Arab teachers teaching Jewish and Arab pupils, is a beautiful reminder that at the end of the day, we are all human beings with a simple desire to live in harmony, dignity and mutual respect,” he said.

Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy visits a classroom at the Max Rayne Hand in Hand School in Jerusalem as students across Israel return to in-person learning on Sept. 1, 2021. (Photo: Noam Moskowitz/Knesset)

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

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