Ran Erez Olivier Fitoussi 31.8.2010
Ran Erez taking a picture during a labor court hearing on the planned high school teachers strike, August 31, 2010. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
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The Education Ministry yesterday moved to head off the strike called for today, the first day of the new school year, by one of the country's main teachers' unions. The ministry motioned the National Labor Court to issue an injunction against the strike declared earlier in the day by the Secondary School Teachers' Association to protest the lack of progress in contract talks and the expansion of an educational reform program.

The one-day warning strike will affect grades 7-12 in the 1,200 junior high and high schools whose teachers are among the union's 40,000 members. In the the rest of the country's schools the academic year is expected to open according to schedule today, with the exception of a few localized strikes and closures, most of them initiated by parents' associations.

Employees at Na'amat daycare centers have declared a one-day warning strike for today to protest their low wages. The strike will affect 18,000 children between the ages of six months and three years.

The heads of the SSTA decided yesterday afternoon on its strike, to protest the absence of negotiations toward a new collective bargaining agreement. The union's teachers have been working without a contract since December. Representatives from the SSTA and the finance and education ministries have met a few times, but no real progress was made.

The other bone of contention is the Education Ministry's desire to expand the New Horizon reform program to additional junior high schools, including ones with teachers who belong to the Secondary School Teachers' Association. That organization, in contrast to the Teachers' Union, has opposed the reform from the outset.

Last week the National Labor Court prohibited the SSTA from striking or otherwise interfering with studies in connection to its opposition to the New Horizon program, but made no mention of protest action over other issues. The court did rule that the union's members have the right to oppose the reform.

"Not only does the government crush the teachers and refuse to talk with us about a new collective bargaining agreement, but the Education Ministry also makes promises that it doesn't keep," SSTA chairman Ran Erez said yesterday. "Last summer [Education] Minister Gideon Sa'ar promised that any school in which a majority of its teachers don't want to be in the reform program would not be included in New Horizon, but for the past few months he's been saying that he can't keep his promises."

Erez said Sa'ar also backtracked on understandings reached with the union late last year, adding, "We have reached the conclusion that the Education Ministry is being run by the State Prosecutor's Office and petty officials in the Education Ministry."

Principal problems

Parents' associations in three schools around the country voted to keep their children at home for at least today over disputes related to the principal at each school.

In Rosh Ha'ayin, the parents' association of the Tal elementary school, with backing from the citywide parents' association, voted to "strike" to protest the return of the school's principal after a one-year sabbatical. Danny Avidor, chairman of theRosh Ha'ayin parents' association, sent a letter to parents of the school's students and asked them not to send their children to school today.

Avidor told Haaretz that his organization believed that the principal, Orly Fligler, would not be returning after her sabbatical year. "There are clear signs that the Education Ministry realized she wasn't suited to our school," Avidor said, citing a decline in the school's performance and a feeling that the atmosphere in the school had become "more like a summer camp than a school" under Fligler. "We all know she's not suitable, but our hands are tied. The parents' association is not willing to accept her in the school," he said.

Rosh Ha'ayin Mayor Moshe Sinai wrote in a letter to the school's parents' association that the city also does not support Fligler's return to the school, local and Education Ministry officials agree that she should be replaced, and the ministry itself supports this but cannot order her removal.

The Education Ministry said in a statement that Fligler is returning to the school in accordance with the established procedure following a sabbatical, and the ministry will review the parents' claims.

The parents' association in Majdal Shams, on the Golan Heights, decided yesterday to boycott all the schools in the village, including kindergartens, to support their demand to replace the principal of the local high school.

The junior high school in Kafr Ayn Mahal is to be closed this morning to protest the appointment of a new principal who lives in Nazareth rather than a local resident.

In a number of other communities a strike was declared by the local parents' association in one or more schools due to safety issues or problems with the electricity or air conditioning.

In Kfar Yassif about 200 students and their parents are expected to demonstrate outside a private school established by the Orthodox church in the village, to protest the Education Ministry's decision not to formally recognize it.