Back to school... but no holding hands
Back to school... but no holding handsiStock

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton (New Hope), and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) have agreed upon an outline for resumption of studies for the new academic year which is designed to limit the spread of coronavirus within schools, and also on a program to encourage vaccination among students in advance of the resumption of studies.

According to the outline, students in grades eight through twelve in “red” cities (with high rates of contagion) will only be permitted to return to class if over 70% of the class is considered immune (either vaccinated, certified recovered, or with a recent serological test indicating the presence of COVID-19 antibodies). Otherwise, they will resume studies via distance learning.

Grades one through seven will operate according to the “Magen Chinuch” (Education Shield) system first publicized by the Education Ministry several days ago. The system has five separate components designed to safeguard the health of students and staff:

1) Serological testing of all students, in order to identify those who are considered immune to COVID-19 (having already recovered from it and developed antibodies). Those students found to be immune will be exempt from quarantine requirements in the event that a classmate is diagnosed with coronavirus. The testing has already commenced in haredi-majority municipalities, as boys’ schools have already resumed studies according to the Jewish calendar, on the first of the month of Elul. It will later be expanded to the rest of the country – some 1.6 million students.

2) Provision of rapid Covid-19 tests to the country’s 1.9 million students via their parents, who will be expected to administer the tests themselves (instructions to follow), around 48 hours before the commencement of the new school year. (Although many haredi boys’ schools have already commenced studies, the government has not managed to begin implementation of this stage of the program as of the time of this writing.)

3) The “green classroom” model: If a student is diagnosed with COVID-19, he or she enters quarantine and the rest of the class is tested for the virus. All others who test positive will similarly enter quarantine; those who test negative will return to class, and will be tested daily for the next seven days. Any student (or staff member who came into sustained contact with a confirmed COVID-19 carrier) who refuses to be tested will go into quarantine. This stage of the program is already being implemented in haredi schools.

4) Weekly COVID-19 testing in schools in “orange” or “red” locales.

5) General preventative measures: face masks, social distancing, meticulous hygienic practices, and learning in the open air.