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As of press time last night, officials from the ministries of education and finance were still conducting marathon negotiations with the Secondary School Teachers Association in a bid to avoid implementing the back-to-work orders issued last week by the National Labor Court, which take effect Thursday.

Meanwhile, teachers at some 60 secondary schools so far have already decided not to return to work on Thursday.

The schools in question held special meetings this week to discuss the matter. Others are expected to make a decision today and tomorrow.

According to one teacher active in the two-month-long strike, "our goal is to reach a critical mass of teachers, that would empty the injunctions of meaning. Refusal to obey the orders does not constitute breaking proper standards of behavior, but rather their restoration: you cannot resolve a conflict like this by means of a unilateral measure like back-to-work orders, but only through negotiations."

Other activists said that at several schools, teachers are planning to go to the nearest police station on Thursday and ask to be arrested.

Teachers are relying, among other things, on a legal opinion that said: "A teacher who does not return to work after the court order has gone into effect will not be considered in violation of the court order. At most, these teachers are absent without justification. In that case, there is the possibility of disciplinary measures against the teacher, including listing the absences as unpaid leave; beginning a disciplinary proceeding that includes a letter of reprimand or letter of warning; or opening a hearing proceeding. In the latter event, a member of the teachers' organization will sit on the committee."

In his speech yesterday at Globes' Israel Business Conference, Finance Minister Roni Bar-On said that "the discourse surrounding obeying the court orders raises questions about the degree of commitment in Israel to the rules of the game in a democracy."

He added that as time passes, "chances are lessened for a consensual reform of the school system."

Between now and Thursday, Education Minister Yuli Tamir will meet with groups of principals around the country in an effort to enlist their cooperation for an orderly resumption of classes. In response, the High School Principals Association issued a call "not to attend the meeting with Education Ministry representatives, who issued court orders against teachers and principals."

The leader of the striking teachers, Ran Erez, charged that the Education Ministry is trying to drive a wedge between teachers and principals. "Therefore we asked that principals refrain from participating in conferences of any sort that are organized by the Education Ministry or Union of Local Authorities."

An earlier meeting yesterday between Bar-On and Erez achieved no results. Sources involved in the talks said that Bar-On tried to persuade Erez to end the strike by promising that "within a few months everything will be alright."