As Israel prepares to send first- to fourth-grade children back to the classroom, the country’s Health Ministry is calling for some 60,000 public-school teachers nationwide to be tested for COVID-19.

The testing will be carried out at sites run by the IDF Home Front Command or at community clinics.

The ministry stressed that classes or schools could be opened before all test results were in, and that staff being tested did not have to quarantine themselves until results were available. In addition, anyone who has already recovered from COVID-19 will not need to be retested.

“The Health Ministry, the Education Ministry and the Federation of Local Authorities in Israel have invested a lot of planning into improving the back-to-school framework, to ensure that children and staff can be brought back to school safely and pedagogical activity can continue while we safeguard the public’s health,” said officials.

However, Knesset Education Committee chairman MK Ram Shefa voiced criticism on Tuesday of a proposed plan for open-air classes submitted by the health and education ministries. Shefa said that his committee would not approve it.

“The intention to allow students and teachers to meet outside is welcome, but it’s not clear to me how the restriction of up to 15 students [in a group] and instructions to keep groups 100 meters [yards] apart can be upheld, when the general public is allowed to gather in groups of up to 20 people,” said Shefa.

“In the meeting, no expert managed to explain the choice of these numbers in a way that put our minds at ease, so the Education Committee will not approve these measures,” he added.

Shefa called on the so-called coronavirus Cabinet to change the regulations to allow for groups of up to 19 students for every teacher, with the distance between groups reduced to 50 meters.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein on Tuesday addressed the decision to start reopening schools on Nov. 1, saying “first- and second-graders will, unfortunately, only be in school for some of the time. I hope that some local authorities will expand the framework.”

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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