As the United States and the other countries of the world anxiously consider how to reopen schools, Israel, one of the first countries to do so, illustrates the dangers of moving too precipitously.

Confident it had beaten the coronavirus and desperate to reboot a devastated economy, the Israeli government invited the entire student body back in late May.

Within days, infections were reported at a Jerusalem High School, quickly mushrooming into the largest outbreak in a single school in Israel, probably the world.

The virus spread out to the students' homes and then to other schools and neighborhoods, ultimately infecting hundreds of students, teachers and relatives.

Other outbreaks forced hundreds of schools to close. Across the country, tens of thousands of students and teachers were quarantined.

'' They definitely should not do what we have done,'' said Eli Waxman, a professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science and chairman of the team advising Israel's National Security Council on the pandemic. ''It was a major failure.''

The lesson experts say, is that even communities that have gotten the spread of the virus under control need to take strict precautions when reopening schools.

Smaller classes, mask wearing, keeping desks six feet apart and providing adequate ventilation, they say, are likely to be crucial until a vaccine is available.

''If there is a low number of cases, THERE IS AN ILLUSION that the disease is over,'' aid Dr. Haggal Levine, a professor of epidemiology and chairman of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians. ''But it's a complete illusion.''

''The mistake in Israel,'' he said, ''is that you open the education system, but you have to do it gradually, with certain limits, and you have to do it in a very careful way.''

The United States is facing similar pressures to fully reopen schools, and President Trump has threatened to withhold funding for districts that don't reopen.

Israel's handling of the pandemic was considered successful at first. the country of nine million quickly closed its borders, closed schools in mid-March and introduced remote learning for its two million students.

The World Students Society thanks authors Isabel Kershner and Pam Belluck.


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