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Special-education teaching assistants in the Jerusalem area are planning to go on strike tomorrow as part of a protest aimed at securing higher pay, subject to a final decision today by the Histadrut labor federation on whether to authorize the action.

The strike - by approximately 550 teaching assistants, who help students with disabilities in the classroom - will affect hundreds of pupils.

Past teacher strikes have generally not included those who work in special education.

"The teaching assistants do the most important, sacred work, for the lowest pay," said Zion Dahan, who heads the Jerusalem Municipality workers union. "We don't do enough for them."

Dahan noted that the teaching assistants had been trying to negotiate their pay with the Finance Ministry for four months, but had yet to receive a response, leaving them no choice but to strike.

He said the teaching assistants working in Jerusalem get paid less than their counterparts in other parts of the country.

A group of parents of children in the special-education system asked Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini last night to intervene and resolve the conflict without a strike.

"These are not children who can be casually left alone without supervision," the parents wrote. "At any given time we support the just fight over the wages and working conditions of the assistants. But waging such a disproportionate struggle that will lead to serious and intolerable damage to the children's dignity, health and safety cannot be allowed."

The parents are considering going to the National Labor Court for assistance if a strike is declared.

The Education Ministry said its director general will work with the Union of Local Authorities in an effort to prevent a strike.