How to reopen schools safely and affectively after a COVID-19 lockdown?

When you read proposals from government officials on the reopening of schools, it makes you wonder if they think that the education of our children is like playing a game of Grande Vegas casino bonuses.  Roll a die, roll a die, wherever it lands, maybe the children will get an education.  Maybe they will not.  Eh, who cares?

The parents care.  That is who cares. Our children are not chips or cards on a gambling table.  They are living, breathing human beings.  Yes, there is a pandemic going around that affects breathing, but it is not the children in elementary school who are dying from it.

Maybe they might get sick from it.  Maybe they might even be sick and out of school for two weeks.  But they are not going to die.  And if we are already keeping them out of school, does it really matter if half of the class catches COVID-19 and has to stay home for two weeks?  They are already staying home.

So it is not the kids who are the problem.  It is the teachers and other adults who make a school run.

The plan to reopen the schools according to ….me

Yes, I am a software engineer, and yes, I am going to approach the problem as if it is a computer software application that needs to be debugged.

What do we know about COVID-19 and the best way to prevent it that would actually work when talking about children in elementary school, Grades 1 – 6?

Social Distancing

Don’t count on it.  In normal times, it is hard enough getting children to remember to wash their hands upon entering school, entering the house, after using the bathroom, etc.  Now we want them to not touch each other.  Not going to happen.  We can try, but don’t count on it.

Wearing a mask

Depending on the child.  It would be realistic to expect a child to wear a mask when moving through public hallways, going to school, exiting from school, but to expect that children will be wearing a mask during the whole school day is unrealistic.

So what is the solution?

For elementary school kids, you need to think of a classroom as “a family”.  Whatever they do during the school day, they do with their family.  If we really wanted to be paranoid, it would also include going to and from school.  That would work in a place like the United States, where children go to school in local communities, but it might be harder in a place like Israel where children are not bound to their local school.

But during the day, you keep the kids with their “family”.  This should also include afterschool programs that are located in regular schools.

What about specialty classes like Art and Music where a specialized teacher moves from classroom to classroom?

That is probably not a realistic option at the current time.

How to return kids to school?

Let’s assume that each grade has 3 full classes.  There are 6 grades, so that makes 18 classrooms.  If every class is a half class (15 kids), we would need 36 classrooms, which is not realistic.  So we need another option.

Grade Level
Grade 1 Week 1, half classrooms (6) Week 2, full classrooms (3) Week 1 Total: 6
Grade 2 Week 1, half classrooms (6) Week 2, full classrooms (3) Week 2 Total: 15
Grade 3 Week 2, half classrooms (6) Week 3, full classrooms (3) Week 3 Total: 18
Grade 4 Week 2, half classrooms (6) Week 3, full classrooms (3) Week 4 Total 21
Grade 5 Week 3, half classrooms (6) Week 4: full classrooms (3) Week 5 Total 18
Grade 6 Week 4, half classrooms (6) Week 5: full classrooms (3)

Now if you notice from our chart, there is one week (the last week) where we are going to be 3 rooms short, but that is something that most schools can manage.  Usually, a school has a gym/cafeteria.  That can be one classroom.  Tents can be used for the other two classrooms.  The weather should still be warm enough to be able to handle it.

What is wrong with Israel’s Ministry of Education’s proposal?

You cannot send 1st and 2nd graders to school for only part of the week.  First, these are the grades that need 100% adults watching the children.  Second, these are the grades that cannot read and write with confidence yet, so it makes no sense to expect them to learn through zoom.  Third, kids in these grades need to do hands-on learning.

What about the adults and protecting kids from becoming carriers?

Treat COVID-19 the same way that we would treat lice.  Before the school year begins, test the teachers to make sure that they are not carrying COVID-19.  Once the teachers and bus drivers and other adults working in the schools are cleared, we can then work on bringing the students into the schools.

As each class enters the school, they get tested.  China tested 9 million people in 5 days.  If China can do it, Israel can do it with its population.  Children ages 0 to 14 years old are 27.89% of the population.  Israel’s total population is 8,972,000.  The population of children is 2,502,290 people.  If we assume each age group is the same amount of people, that would be 178,735 people per age group.

As of August 9, 2020, Israel can do 60,000 COVID-19 tests per day.

How is China able to test so many people in such a short period of time?

The answer is China did batch testing or pooledl testing.

“In this process, a batch of between five and 10 samples was tested. Only if a sample tested positive, the testing team would go back to carry out individual tests to see who was positive within the batch.”

How can Israel do batch testing?

Let’s say that Israel does batches of 10 for testing the school kids.  That means that on the low end, Israel can easily go from 60,000 tests to 600,000 tests a day.  Since we are trying to make each classroom a “family”, either the “family” is clean or the “family” is NOT clean.  There is no in-between when talking about COVID-19.

If each age group is 178,735, we can realistically meet 1 grade level per day.  If we want to be extra safe, we can space them out by Grade 1 on Sunday and Grade 2 on Wednesday.  If we want to deal with one school at a time, open school A on Sunday and open school B on Wednesday.


The opening of Israel’s schools is not going to happen in 1 week, but doing half weeks is not going to work for elementary school children.

The main thing is that no group of students should return to school without testing all of the children for COVID-19 by mid-day, so the results can be known by the end of the day.

By doing batch testing, that is possible.