With Their Gas Masks in Tow, High Schoolers Return to Class

With school bags on one shoulder and gas masks on the other, Israel’s high school students returned to school Sunday, after nine days of forced vacation caused by the Iraqi missile attacks against Israel.

The back-to-school order, which so far covers only those in the 10th, 11th and 12th grades, is the latest of several efforts to bring a measure of normalcy back to the country, which has endured six missile attacks and numerous other false air raid alerts.

Last week, security authorities gradually reopened businesses throughout the country, which virtually shut down completely when the missile attacks began on Jan. 18.

Education Ministry officials estimated high school attendance Sunday at 70 to 80 percent.

There were emotional reunion scenes as students showed up at school, particularly in the Tel Aviv and Haifa areas, which have been the principal targets of the almost nightly missile attacks. Many teen-agers expressed relief they were no longer confined to their homes, but others voiced concern about the safety of returning to classes.

Studies began later than usual, at 9 a.m., mostly because of the fact that one of the first missile attacks took place at 7:30 a.m. — the only strike to occur during daytime.

Students devoted much of their first day back to exchanging views on the situation, recounting their personal experiences of the attacks and rehearsing procedures in the event of additional air raid alerts.

“I was surprised to see my Arabic teacher devoting an entire hour to discussing the war and our feelings about it, whereas in regular times she would not have wasted a minute for anything else but studies,” said Guy, a 17-year-old 12th-grader from Jerusalem.

PARENTS HAVE MIXED FEELINGS

The teacher, like many mothers throughout the country, brought along her 6-year-old daughter, since there was no one else to take care of the child.

School staffs spent the last few days sealing off classrooms, so that in case of an attack, students would not have to move around in the school. Not all classes were ready, and in some classes students spent the day completing the sealing jobs.

Students were instructed that in case of alarm, they should put on their gas masks and then duck under the desks, “so that in case something heavy falls, the desk will serve as protection.” During recess, they conducted an air raid drill.

“Our teacher asked us whether we believed Israel should retaliate for the missile attacks, and almost all of us responded: No,” said Guy.

Parents sent their children to schools half-heartedly. “On the one hand, I realize that life must go on,” said Victor, Guy’s father. “On the other hand, I had all kinds of strange thoughts how I would not forgive myself if anything would happen to the children during school hours.”

Since there have been few daytime raids, “I feel quite confident about sending the older children to school,” said Dina Edri of Ramat Gan. “Let’s hope I won’t regret it.”

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