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Can students be safe in school when COVID-19 spikes?

CM 26/08/2021


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Some 2.4 million students – including 176,000 first graders – and 210,000 teaching staff are expected to head back to school on September 1, as Israel hits some of its highest numbers of daily COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic.
“We are continuing as planned,” said Efrat Laufer, who directs the Education Ministry’s health department.
Already, around 120,000 students and teachers are in isolation or have the virus, including in around 65 “red cities” with high infection. In those areas, students in grades eight through 12 who study in classrooms where less than 70% of their peers are vaccinated will be forced once again to learn from home.

But the Health and Education ministries say they are committed to enabling as many kids as possible to participate in frontal learning, after more than 1.5 million school days were lost in the education system as a result of the number of isolation days that students were required to observe last year, according to the ministry.
“I know how important it is to you, how important it is to children, how important it is to parents” to return to school, said Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton earlier this week. “We deserve to create certainty and stability in the education system, so that we can start the year in a good way.”
The minister noted that the past 18 months of the coronavirus crisis “severely harmed” the country’s children.
A report published by the Health Ministry in April showed a decline of about 30% in basic skills among first through third graders, a 25% decline in math and language literacy among fourth- and sixth-grade students and a gap of about 30% in the core subjects (language arts, math, English and science) among students in grades seven to 10.
There was also decreased motor and physical skills among students.
 A CHILD takes a coronavirus test as part of a simulation presented by Sheba Medical Center for how pupils can return to study at the beginning of the new school year. (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER / FLASH 90) A CHILD takes a coronavirus test as part of a simulation presented by Sheba Medical Center for how pupils can return to study at the beginning of the new school year. (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER / FLASH 90)
Moreover, students experienced tremendous negative emotional and psychological impact from being out of school. One in three students reported emotional distress, the ministry reported.
There was a 25% increase in risk assessments for suicide by educational psychological services, some 60% of educational counselors said their students reported feeling lonely, and the counselors said they saw a significant increase in risky behaviors, such as drug use and violence.
There was evidence of a higher number of students suffering from anxiety disorders and mood swings, as well as from eating disorders and obesity.
At the same time, multiple studies have shown that the risk to children from COVID is small, with more than half of all infections being asymptomatic, and that schools do not necessarily constitute hot spots for the virus.
“Physical learning in schools will allow the education system to focus on reducing the emotional, academic and social gaps that students have accumulated,” Shasha-Biton said, adding that she helped secure an additional approximately NIS 300 million for the educational and emotional responses required for students.
“I hear from a lot of parents,” said Laufer, “and in general they believe in the educational system. We see how much the public is accepting the antigen tests,” which parents are being asked to give their children ahead of the first day, for example.
“In each class there are one or two parents who say they do not feel safe, but most understand the situation and want their kids to go back to school and learn,” she continued. “It gives society strength knowing that children will go back to school and back to routine on September 1.”
HOWEVER, VOICES of opposition do remain, like that of MK Ofir Sofer (Likud) who tweeted earlier this week that opening the school year on September 1 is “an unwise act,” whose benefit will be lost by the number of children and parents who will be forced to isolate during the holiday season as a result.
“It is not too late to make a substantive decision and postpone the start of the school year,” he wrote.
Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, deputy mayor of Jerusalem and a mother of four, is also pushing to delay the opening of schools – a move she has said “could cost us dearly.”
“There are only eight days of school in September, because of the High Holy Days, and a return to school in the midst of a global pandemic could endanger our children, teachers, grandparents and families,” she said. “We all want to get back to normal quickly, but in terms of the benefit of eight days of school, while the education system is not yet ready for the new reality… we should return to school after the holidays.”
A new survey showed that parents are worried about the transition, as much as they want their children to get back to routine.
More than half (52%) of parents said they did not feel safe about sending their children back to school next week, according to a study completed this week by Prof. Michal Grinstein-Weiss, director of the Social Policy Institute at Washington University, and her colleague Yaniv Shlomo, which was released first to The Jerusalem Post.
Some 34% of parents said they were afraid their child would be infected with coronavirus at school, and 36% said they were worried the family would contract coronavirus from their children who might be infected in school, the study showed.
Half (53%) were concerned there would be disruptions in the learning process and the quality of teaching, or that the quality of teaching and their children’s academic achievement would be harmed due to the implementation of the coronavirus rules.
Then again, most parents are not even sure of the rules for opening the school year. Some 63% of parents said they were unfamiliar with the details, and 72% said the education system was not ready for the school year.
Parents are willing to take the steps needed to keep their children safe. Some 52% said that if professionals felt it was needed, they would be willing to subject their children to a weekly COVID-19 test. Nearly three-quarters (71%) believe kids should wear masks in their classrooms, and almost two-thirds (64%) said students should be vaccinated in schools.
Moreover, almost half (47%) believe that unvaccinated students should be tested daily.
THE EDUCATION Ministry has rolled out a five-part plan for helping to ensure school safety. It combines serological testing of students in areas that had high levels of infection; asking parents to test students with rapid antigen tests before the start of the school year and to keep sick kids home; implementing a “Green Class” outline that could keep kids out of quarantine when a sick classmate is discovered through daily testing; carrying out the Magen Hinuch program that includes weekly testing of students at schools in red and orange areas; and requiring masks and social distancing while pushing for high vaccination levels among students 12 through 15 and educational staff.
The Education Ministry has said that around 90% of all teaching staff is vaccinated, but among those who work in the school system in general there are still 37,000 people who have not been inoculated. This includes everyone from janitors to school management.
“We are in favor of vaccines,” Teachers’ Union chief Yaffa Ben-David said earlier this week, noting that unvaccinated employees would be required to test twice weekly to enter schools. But she noted that it could become difficult to enforce such a move, because “who will replace a teacher sitting at home because he did not agree to be tested?”
Laufer said that the ministry is still not aware of how many employees will neither vaccinate nor be willing to test, but it is doing everything it can “to explain to them why it is good to vaccinate – for them, the children and the whole country.”
She said there has been an influx of teachers rushing to get vaccinated since they learned of the new policy, and that despite extremists who have appeared on nightly news reports, most unvaccinated teachers understand the need to screen.
“These are educators, and they will lead by example by following the guidelines,” Laufer said.
So far, some 43% of 12- to 15-year-olds have been inoculated with at least one shot, and another 80% of 16- to 19-year-olds have gotten the jab.
But with the number of red cities changing each Wednesday and the percentages not quite high enough in many classrooms, it is still unclear how many students will be forced to learn at home come September 1.
Also, despite a decision to vaccinate in schools, medical teams will deliver this service only if at least 50 students and teachers sign up for it, and there is no indication yet of how many schools will qualify.
“THE LAST 18 months have been so hard,” said Gilat Lerer of Ganei Tikva, a mother of two children ages six and nine.
She recalled how, when infection levels were as high as they are presently, the country was in lockdown. Now, with near record daily levels, the government has chosen to open schools.
“I am worried about isolation,” Lerer said. “We are vaccinated, and infection tends to be less harsh in children.
But the quarantine can be very hard for kids, and the thought of it makes me feel very stressed.
She said the previous closures emotionally harmed her oldest, a boy, and it took months to give him back the confidence to go out of the apartment again and play with friends.
“If he ends up in isolation, this could send him backward,” Lerer added.
Still, she plans to bring her children to school on Wednesday, “with a heavy heart.”
As Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash said this week, “I cannot guarantee anything, but we are prepared to do it, and we are determined to make it happen.”

Source: Jerusalem Post

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CM

The host of Coffee Mouth Scare Crow Show and CEO of 452 Impact, Inc. Here is food for thought. Romans 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." John 3:16 "For God so love ed the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall be saved."

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