High schoolers return to classrooms, but principals say most studies stay online

Around 400,000 Israeli high schoolers were set to return to the classroom on Sunday morning after a break of nearly two months.

Under the Health Ministry’s plan, students will have at least two days a week of in-person studying, with distance learning on the remaining days.

Restrictions dividing students into separate study groups mean that teachers will be permitted to come in contact with up to four groups of students, and the students themselves to move between only two groups. High school principals have warned that the regulations mean that the majority of studies for individual subjects will therefore have to continue remotely.

Additionally, schools have continued to demand a reduction in the number of matriculation exams that students are supposed to take, saying that a one-month postponement is not sufficient given the disruption of the past year, the Kan public broadcaster reported. Furthermore, the Education Ministry was said to be examining the possibility of further reducing the amount of material that is required to be studied for the exams.

High school students take a matriculation examination in Yehud, July 8, 2020 (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

One principal said that although he and his colleagues were given advance warning of the plan, it was simply impossible to implement a system that would allow the students to study in class without mixing between too many groups.

“We worked very hard to build a timetable according to the outline we were given. It was an almost impossible task,” Ella Sapir Gonen, principal of the Shimon Ben Zvi school in the Tel Aviv suburb of Givatayim, told the Walla news site.

“In our high school there are subjects studied by students from all the classes, such as Arabic, French, chemistry, software engineering and more, subjects for which it was important to bring them back to school. But they will have to learn only through Zoom,” she said.

Nati Stern, principal of the Ironi Daled school in Tel Aviv, said the regulations meant that on a practical level, the majority of studies would still remain online.

“The plan is one big problem. It’s a catastrophe — not really going back to school on Sunday,” Stern said. “Once you come and say that every teacher can teach up to four group, it means that everything remains Zoomed in.”

The return of high schoolers to the classroom came as the Health Ministry on Sunday morning said 569 new coronavirus cases were confirmed the previous day.

New daily case numbers are typically lower on Sundays as testing levels fall over the weekend.

Hospital team members move patients to a new coronavirus ward at Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem, November 16, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Of the 17,126 tests performed Saturday, 3.3 percent came back positive. As recently as Wednesday, the positivity rate stood at 1.8%. The number has recently tended to rise during weekends and then go down.

The reduced number of cases came after three straight days that new daily infections topped 1,000, after remaining below that milestone for over a month.

The number of infections since the pandemic began stood at 334,988, of which 9,923 were active cases.

The death toll stood at 2,854.

According to the ministry, there were 273 people in serious condition, with 112 on ventilators. Another 82 people were in moderate condition and the rest had mild or no symptoms.

Top health officials have warned of rising morbidity, even as the government pushes on with rolling back lockdown restrictions.

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash on Saturday addressed the reopening of 15 malls around the country a day earlier as part of a plan to evaluate their compliance with social-distancing guidelines. The openings drew large crowds of shoppers who waited in line to enter stores.

People shop at the Ayalon Mall in Ramat Gan after it reopened, November 27, 2020 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

“What we saw yesterday in the pictures is very grave and could lead to infection,” Ash said. “I hope we won’t have to shutter this pilot because of these pictures.”

He called on mall operators “to act responsibly” and prevent crowding.

The comments came after Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Friday that he had instructed Ash and Chezy Levy, the director-general of the Health Ministry, to meet Saturday evening after the “serious crowding at malls… and in light of the rising morbidity figures.”

The officials will present him with their conclusions at the start of the week and Edelstein will then formulate his position, the statement added.

“I’m really worried this is another issue that could increase morbidity,” Levy said in an interview with Kan news Friday. “We’ll have to think about whether to continue the pilot and how.”

Malls have been closed — except for certain essential stores within them, such as pharmacies or food sellers — since mid-September under lockdown rules. Street-front stores were allowed to reopen earlier this month, with a cap on the number of customers, which was raised from four to 10 on Wednesday.

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