Israel to Limit Class Sizes in Second Attempt at Reopening Schools

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Israeli students at the Orot Etzion school in Efrat wear protective face masks as they return to school for the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus on May 3. Photo by Gershon Elinon/Flash90, via JTA.org

By Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM — Israeli elementary schools will open in the fall, but with no more than 18 students per class, and older students will learn at home all but one day a week.

That is about half the typical class size in Israel, meaning that many additional teachers will need to be hired. The country will tap retirees, students, unemployed educators and soldiers to enter the classroom to make the new limits possible, the country’s education minister said on Wednesday.

The plan for the school year represents a major shift from what the country tried to do this spring when schools reopened after a two-month closure because of the pandemic.

In May, all grades returned to the classroom in a rapid reopening that included no changes to the number of students in each class. A sharp increase in cases of the coronavirus among students and teachers sent thousands of students and school staff into isolation, and an outbreak connected to a Jerusalem high school has become a cautionary tale for countries around the world considering how to safely resume schooling.

Last week, amid a steep rise in cases nationwide, the country announced that schools and camps for students older than fourth grade would be remote. (Lower grades currently are in summer school despite the rise in infections.) Education minister Yoav Gallant said those students would enter their schools once a week for in-person lessons, the national broadcaster Kan reported.

Having the younger students attend school every day “is essential to the economy,” Gallant said. This would allow parents to go to work or work remotely effectively. Young students may also lack the academic and social skills to make online learning effective.

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