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Israel – ”Leave our kids at home”: Cities defy government, won’t open most schools Sunday

Municipal authorities throughout the country said Friday they would not open schools, despite a cabinet decision that first through third graders and 11th and 12th graders could return to school on Sunday.

Many cities said they would not be ready to safely reopen Sunday, with the decision only coming Friday morning after days of deliberations. They also accused the government of failing to lay out clear guidelines for the process.

Apparently in response to the protests, the Education Ministry said that the opening of schools would be staggered, allowing cities time to get ready and the process should be completed by Tuesday.

Among the first mayors to respond to the decision was Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai who said: “Our schools and kindergartens are clean and the teams are ready, but we will not go by rules set by people who do not act responsibly.

“I can promise parents that just as we knew how to reopen special education classes we will know how to re-operate the entire municipal education system, but only after we take steps to ensure the children’s safety. I am the one who is responsible for them at the end of the day.”

Huldai later told Channel 12 “I’ve lost faith” in the national authorities who ordered the partial return to school.

Ramat Gan mayor Carmel Shama-Hacohen was also critical of the hasty timetable, saying that the decision is “disconnected from reality on the ground” and that Ramat Gan will open schools only when all problems have been solved.

Beersheba, Bnei Brak, Bat Yam, Safed, Kiryat Malachi are among other municipalities that have so far said they will not open schools on Sunday.

MK Ahmed Tibi said all Arab schools would remain shut as they are not yet ready to comply with the decision.

In addition the forum of 15 independent municipalities, which as well as Tel Aviv, Ramat Gan and Beersheba, also includes Haifa, Netanya, Ashdod, Rishon Lezion, Petah Tikva and Herzliya, said they would not open schools Sunday.

The forum of 15 cited “irregularities in the government’s guidelines.”

“Since out municipalities are the ones that have to implement the decisions on the ground, we wish to clarify that under the circumstances, and given the fact that we have yet to receive clear and practical guidelines for reopening the education system, we believe that the date set by the government does not enable us to implement it in a safe manner,” the forum said in a statement.

However, Givatayim, which is a member of the forum, welcomed the decision and said it would open schools on Sunday.

“Since school is not mandatory, we will be happy to receive anyone who decides to come on Sunday,” said Givatayim mayor Ran Konik.

The Holon municipality, which is also a member of the forum of 15, said it would open schools for 11th and 12th graders, but not for first through third graders.

The chairman of the Knesset Education Committee Nitzan Horowitz meanwhile attacked the decision.

“Bibi is playing yo-yo with the education system,” said the Meretz MK, referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by his nickname.

“Instead of taking a thought-out decision with serious preparatory work, everything is done on the fly. It has been obvious for weeks that the lower grades can return to school along with those taking the matriculation exams, in small groups… the foot-dragging until the last minute has prevented the education system from preparing itself.”

Ministers on Friday voted that students in grades 1-3 and 11-12 will return to school on Sunday, with kindergartens only expected to reopen on May 10 after an assessment of the situation.

The government announced that in ultra-Orthodox schools, students in grades 7-12 will head back to the classroom on Sunday instead of the younger grades, as well as “minor seminaries,” without defining the parameters.

The remainder of students are expected to go back to school by June 1, and are to continue with remote learning in the meantime.

Special education classes will be fully resumed and provisions will additionally be decided in the future for children deemed to be at-risk, the Prime Minister’s Office said, adding that school will not be compulsory, with the exception of matriculation exams.

The National Security Council had recommended that the reopening of schools be delayed, saying that educational institutions had not made the preparations necessary to be able to reopen during the pandemic.

The decision to delay the opening of kindergartens came after Health Ministry officials pushed to postpone the move, amid fears that young children will be unable to maintain necessary social distancing or hygiene standards, and keeping groups of 15 kids separate from each other, as ordered, will be difficult.

Header: First grade students sit in a classroom on their first day of school at Hashalom elementary school in Mevaseret Zion on September 1, 2019. (Flash90)

Original: TOI Staff