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Following the passage of his Pupil's Rights Law and Student's Rights Law, MK Silvan Shalom (Likud) turned his attention to protecting the rights of teachers and principals.

Yesterday the Knesset passed a preliminary reading of his bill, which did not have the backing of the ministerial committee on legislation, so formally speaking the coalition opposed it. Nevertheless it passed by a 17-10 majority, with the help of a parliamentary trick.

Voting on the bill occured toward the end of the session, so most of the coalition members had already left. However there was a strong presence of MKs from the Likud and National Union parties.

Obviously, if the coalition had wanted to fight the bill, it would have made sure its people were there, but Shalom apparently had inside help.

Several sources explained yesterday that he was also helped because the bill falls under the jurisdiction of Education Minister Yuli Tamir, who is not particularly popular in the coalition.

"The purpose of this law is to set principles for the rights of the teacher and principal in the spirit of human dignity," says the preamble to the bill, "while safeguarding the honor of teachers, principals and the staff of the educational institution."

Preserving dignity

The truth is that the proposed law does not elucidate precisely how teachers' human dignity will be preserved. For example, what disciplinary measures will be at their disposal, or what sort of support can they expect in the face of harmful parental interference?

Shalom says it will be possible to add clauses when the bill is being prepared in committee.

The chair of the education committee who backed the bill, Rabbi Michael Melchior (Labor), says "it is very important to do something about the teachers' status and to bolster their standing.

"Whatever's no good we will remove in the committee, and whatever's missing we will put in."

An especially important clause in the bill states that "the education minister will determine the physical conditions that are suitable for the teacher's work, including the number of pupils in a classroom, and the physical infrastructure needed for the teacher's work."

The problem, of course, is that capping the classroom size at a number lower than today will cost a fortune, so it is doubtful this will happen.

The bill would also give the minister authority to set the basket of education services annually.

Shalom's bill is not concerned only with rights: teachers would also be required to hold an academic degree.