Schools in Israel Reopen With No Solution for Teachers at High-risk of Contracting Coronavirus

Classes resumed Sunday morning for grades 1 to 3 and 11-12 in some localities, even though there is still no arrangement for teachers who are either members of high-risk groups who must avoid coronavirus exposure, or who have small children who aren’t returning to school.

The Education Ministry hasn’t issued any guidelines about this. Teachers’ unions have told teachers who are themselves at risk, or who have a nuclear family member at risk, to get doctors’ notes so they can stay home and take sick days. Doctors, however, are insisting that they cannot issue sick notes to people who aren’t actually sick.

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Teachers’ Union chairman Yaffa Ben David last week asked Health Ministry Deputy Director General Itamar Grotto to “issue clear guidelines to assure the health and safety of teachers and the whole system.” She asked him to define exactly who is considered at-risk and to decide if pregnant women are included. She said family doctors were refusing to issue sick notes to teachers and were referring them to occupational physicians “for whom you have to wait half a year for an appointment.”

Or, a second-grade homeroom teacher in the Tel Aviv area, told Haaretz that she had gotten such a message from her school. She and the other teachers were told that only an authorized occupational physician could confirm that they belong to a risk group, and that underlying illnesses or pregnancy were not sufficient grounds to excuse them from coming to school.

The Israel Association of Family Physicians explained that they cannot give sick notes to teachers who are at risk because they might get infected.

A girl waves to her father as she enters her elementary school in Sderot as it reopens following the ease of coronavirus restrictions May 3, 2020. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

“Sick notes are given in accordance with the medical condition of the person, not based on their risk of getting sick,” the association said. “Since at this time it is not known how much time will pass until a coronavirus vaccine is developed, there is no way to assess the time frame for the sick note and coming to the community doctors will only create extra pressure on the system. Decision makers have to make a clear decision on this issue and not roll the ball to the doctors.”

Teachers who belong to risk groups told Haaretz that they were asked to continue with the online teaching. Another homeroom teacher wrote on social media that even though she was planning to go on sick leave because she belongs to a risk group, she was told she must still send lesson plans to her pupils every day, as well as the Zoom links from the teachers of other subjects.