The teachers and students at HaKfar HaYarok School in Ramat Hasharon breathed a collective sigh of relief last weekend. All 1,400 corona tests performed on the school's students during the week came back negative.
The school, which has 2,700 students from about 50 school districts, a rarity in Israel's school system, joined the “Education Shield” project, a collaboration between the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Defense to carry out coronavirus tests in schools. HaKfar HaYarok School joined the project two weeks ago, after the school’s parents pushed for more testing.
"We raised the issue of school testing because we believe in mutual responsibility. We want to make teachers and families feel safer," Aryeh Kogan, vice principal of HaKfar HaYarok, told Davar. "Our community wants to be healthy and take responsibility for others within our communities. Actually, for public health in general."
It all started with a parent’s initiative at HaKfar HaYarok.l. A group of parents decided to look for a way to bring all the students, who come from so many different cities, together in a safe way. Initially, one of the parents contacted a company that produces a home coronavirus test. The school administration checked with the Ministry of Health, but it soon became clear that the home tests were not approved for public use in Israel.
Later, the group of parents heard about the Education Shield project. As part of the project, which began at the end of November, every teacher and student who agrees to take part is tested for the coronavirus once a week by Magen David Adom medics at testing centers located within the school.
85 percent of families agree to take part
From the moment Kogan contacted Dr. Yuval Cohen, director of the Education Shield project, about two weeks ago, "it progressed swiftly." After 85 percent of families responded to the initial inquiry about the program, Dr. Cohen was invited to explain the program to families over Zoom.
"On Sunday there was a parents' meeting, on Monday we collected permission slips from the families, and on Tuesday the tests had already started,” Cohen said.
The tests are performed by pooling samples collected from pods of students, in order to save time and resources. If one of the pods comes back positive, which has not yet happened in HaKfar HaYarok, the members of the pod will be tested individually.
"At first people felt apprehensive, which is natural. There were parents who feared that their children's DNA would be sent to China or who thought the tests would install a tracking chip. Everyone had their own anxieties," Kogan said.
According to Kogan, the testing does not discourage students and teachers from following the guidelines, like wearing masks and maintaining social distance, that are meant to curb the spread of the virus within schools.
"The message is that our school is negative (for coronavirus) and wants to remain negative. In my opinion, the project raises awareness of the disease, and does not create the illusion of false security," he explained.
"It's a shame the government doesn’t give us some sort of reward for what we’ve accomplished here. They could have allowed us to continue with in-person learning while other parts of the education system closed. Or relaxed the guidelines for the schools doing this level of testing,” he continued.
In Kogan's opinion, “We’ve only just begun our participation in the program, but this is a model that should be introduced in all schools that draw from multiple school districts."