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Israeli children have sat at home for too long, experts warn

CM 18/08/2021

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Israeli children have sat at home for too long, two experts told The Jerusalem Post, as the Prime Minister’s Office announced that the coronavirus cabinet would meet on Sunday to discuss the outline to allow schools to function despite the pandemic while the idea of postponing the beginning of the school year appears to gain traction.
“I think the school year should start on time, I think we have all the tools to prepare under a multi-layer approach, from vaccination to serological testing,” said Prof. Nadav Davidovitch, an epidemiologist, and the director of Ben-Gurion University’s School of Public Health.
According to what has already been announced, Israel is set to conduct mass testing of students to keep them monitored. Serological testing of children ages 3-12 will also be carried out in order to identify those who have recovered from corona without knowing and can therefore be exempt from isolation.

Vaccinations are supposed to be carried out in schools during school hours, in spite of the fact that the issue has been a matter of argument between the Health and Education ministries, with the latter strongly opposing the idea.
In addition, students in grades eight to 12 who live in red cities with high infection rates will need to learn online unless at least 70% of their class is vaccinated or recovered.
According to Davidovitch all aspects of the plan are important, as well as to think of innovative approaches such as holding classes outdoors or hiring more staff to reduce the overcrowding of classrooms.
“I think it is important to approach the issue from a general public health perspective, and not just focusing on the coronavirus,” he said.
“We need to consider the effect of these decisions on the children’s social and mental health,” he noted. “The bottom line should be to keep schools open as much as we can and give flexibility to the local communities to apply all the measures as much as they can.”
Davidovitch suggested using the few schooldays in September to test the new measures planned.
Asked whether he believes that the authorities will be able to carry out what they have envisioned, he said that the logistical challenges are significant.
“It is clear that some places are better prepared than others and the state should help those in need,” he said. “Schools have been closed for too long.”
According to Prof. Ora Paltiel, an epidemiologist at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health, there are arguments both in favor and against postponing the beginning of the school year.
“On the one hand we are in the middle of a Delta outbreak, the community transmission is high and we know that this leads to outbreaks in schools and even children getting blamed for the outbreaks,” she said. “If schools open, there are going to be outbreaks and many of them will need to enter quarantine. Therefore maybe it could make sense to wait and let them shelter at home.”
“At the same time, children have been the group most affected by the pandemic, not by the disease itself but from the measures taken against it and deciding to open schools no matter would send a very strong statement about how education is our priority as a country,” she noted.
Paltiel acknowledged that in September there are so few school days due to the Jewish holidays that the impact of postponing the beginning of classes would probably be very limited (“When the Jewish holidays fall so early, even in normal years there is a question on whether it would make more sense to start after them,” she remarked).
“However, children have had their right to education curtailed for the past year and a half so we have to move forward and allow them to go to school the entire year,” the expert said.
Children are seen celebrating the last day of school in Jerusalem, on June 30, 2021. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)Children are seen celebrating the last day of school in Jerusalem, on June 30, 2021. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Paltiel stressed that the decision of closing schools in previous waves was not determined by the need to preserve the health of students but under different considerations.
“Children were not getting sick and dying,” she said.
“During the lockdown, we saw that they got infect at home and with their families, from their parents and siblings,” she said. “We were not protecting the children, nor the society. I don’t believe in lockdowns, I don’t think that they have worked in this country.”
About the government’s plan, Paltiel said that anything that can prevent a child to go into unnecessary isolation is welcomed.
Ultimately, she said that the question on the approach to the education system during the pandemic requires a value-based choice.
“Once you make the decision that education is a priority, a basic right for the children, you do everything you can to keep the schools open, unless the children themselves are falling ill and you have to protect them,” she concluded. “The same way we do not shut down the health system or the police, we should not close schools.”

Source: Jerusalem Post

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