Parents, students outraged as Jerusalem school becomes virus hot spot

After 120 students and staff from the Hebrew Gymnasium test positive for coronavirus, parents demand answers from the Education Ministry and school administrators.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

The Rehavia Gymnasium school in Jerusalem was shuttered on Sunday after students and staff tested positive for the coronavirus. Parents are demanding answers from the Education Ministry and school administrators.

Over 120 students and staff from the school tested positive for the coronavirus, sending all 1,400 students and staff affiliated at the school into quarantine.

Two employees of the Rehavia Gymnasium developed serious symptoms and are currently hospitalized at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center.

The Ministry of Health has pledged to test all of the school’s students and staff, and the school has tentative plans to reopen next Sunday.

Danny Leibowitz, principal of the Rehavia Gymnasium, said to Israel Hayom, “We feared this was a scenario that could happen, but we never imagined to this extent. This raises many concerns and worries.”

“What’s happened to us is unfortunate, but we have a strong and knowledgeable team to deal with it. It’s disturbing, but we will get through it.”

However, many parents were less than impressed with the administration’s response. One parent told Israel’s Channel 12 News, “This is just the beginning of the incident, and as time passes, we are starting to understand the scale of the damage caused to our community without us knowing.”

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Students reported that the administrators failed to enforce Ministry of Health guidelines and kept the school open even after a student tested positive.

“At the school entrance, they made us all crowd next to each other,” Amit Sasson, a student at the school, told Israel Hayom. “When we came in wearing our masks, we discovered that some teachers thought this mask was just a recommendation for them and didn’t wear them.”

“After the discovery that teachers and students at the school tested positive, we were still back in school. The school told us there was nothing to worry about and that they’d quarantined those who were close to the infected people, which turned out to be complete nonsense. This [situation] is due to the school’s total irresponsibility.”

Another student, Alma Zusman, echoed Sasson’s sentiments. She told Channel 12 News, “I think that after the first student was found to be infected with the coronavirus, the school should have automatically closed and not returned to studies on Thursday, although I think that the big outbreak had already begun a few days earlier.”

After an outcry from parents, Minister of Education Yoav Gallant justified the decision to keep the educational system running, despite virus outbreaks in Jerusalem, Holon and Kiryat Yearim. He said he believed sweeping closures weren’t necessary, despite the uptick in virus cases.

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“Naturally, there are glitches,” Gallant told Kan Bet Radio. “I assume we will overcome them. All in all, we are getting over the virus better than others. On the one hand, we are preparing for [various] scenarios; on the other hand, we have to get back to our normal routines.”

Gallant said the Ministry of Education’s policy was to leave the decision to close schools on the local level. “I trust the discretion of the school principals,” he said.

“I am cooperating with local and regional authorities, and I am sure it will bring results.”