Israel said that half of coronavirus infections in the country had originated in the education system, according to a government report submitted to the court on Thursday.
The report was submitted to the High Court of Justice after a national parent leadership group last week filed a lawsuit against the state, demanding it reopens schools for grades 7-10 immediately.
Children in grades 7-10 in in yellow, orange and green municipalities are set to return to school on March 7 as part of the third phase of Israel's lockdown exit plan. Kindergarteners and children in lower grades had already returned to class on February 23.
According to the report, 48% of the country’s overall infections are among children and teens who had returned to school.
"The Health Ministry is aware of the difficulty created by the fact that students in grades 7-10, unlike children in lower grades, have studied the fewest amount of days during the past year in an in-person format,” the state wrote in its reply.
"At the same time, it must be clarified that this group of children are getting sick at a higher rate than the lower grades and currently cannot be vaccinated unlike students in 11-12th grades... Furthermore, as of February 28, infections in the education system constitute about 48% of all infections in Israel."
The state said that the recent discovery of the South African variant of coronavirus in Israel has also played a part in the decision to delay the reopening of higher school grades, since its effects on the younger population are currently unknown.
“Although it is clear that the steps taken are not easy, they are based on data and professional considerations, done for the purpose of protecting the public’s health."
Despite the cabinet's decision, Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch recently said that the return of the 7-10 grades to frontal studies is dependent on the infection rate as well as the virus’ basic reproduction number.
Kisch's announcement is what led to the petition, in which the parents reasoned that "the decision-makers themselves, headed by Education Minister Yoav Galant, also think it is appropriate to reopen 7-10th grades."
“In the end, a decision was made not based on a proper factual basis, but arbitrarily, without weighing in all facts and with serious and disproportionate harm to fundamental rights.
“There is no scientific, epidemiological, medical or other justification that can justify the continued harm to these children, who were completely abandoned during the crisis management, and who spent more time learning remotely than any other grade.”
The state urged the court to dismiss the lawsuit, which appears seemingly irrelevant seeing as majority of children in grades 7-10 are set to return to school on Sunday.