Yifat Shasha-Biton
Yifat Shasha-Bitonצילום: Miriam Alster/Flash90

Israel’s Education Minister criticized Health Ministry policies for school openings during the COVID pandemic, urging health officials to consider the broader needs of Israeli children.

Speaking with Kan Wednesday morning, Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton (New Hope) chided the Health Ministry over mass school closures, following the end of the Green Classroom program.

“There are other challenges besides the coronavirus. I’m not going to grade them, but [Health Ministry] officials need to remember that kids came [back to school] after two years at home, and they were broken.”

Shasha-Biton discussed the underlying dispute behind the ongoing deadlock between the Education Ministry and the Health Ministry over attempts to extend the Green Classroom program.

“Unfortunately, in the current format, which was approved a month ago and deals with different towns based on their color [indicating infection rates], a lot of confusion was created on the ground.”

“I want things to be clear, simple, and with guidelines to administrators, parents, and staff, so that everyone can understand everything very easily. What applies to the community should also apply to the school. The same rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated that apply in the community. That way, at least in the elementary classes they can keep ‘green’ classes.”

The Education Minister added that she has received support from Prime Minister Bennett, including for her bid to introduce COVID testing in schools, making it easier for students to return to school quickly.

But, she continued, “That still isn’t happening.”

This Monday, the Green Classroom program, which allowed schools to avoid quarantines for entire classes if a single student tested positive for COVID, expired, leading to waves of isolation orders for thousands of Israeli students.

Under the original format of the program, n towns and neighborhoods with low infection rates, or in classes with vaccination rates over 70%, classes were exempted from automatic quarantine, with the infected student’s peers undergoing a PCR test before returning to school after testing negative, with daily rapid antigen tests for six days, followed by a second PCR test after one week.

The Education Ministry has sought to expand the Green Classroom system, dropping the requirements of low local infection rates or 70% vaccination rates among students – a move the Health Ministry has resisted.