Israeli Parents to Extend 'Sardine Protest' Against Overcrowded Classes

Some seek strike at September 1 start of school year.

Lior Dattel
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Students taking the Meitzav at a school in Jerusalem.Credit: Lior Mizrahi
Lior Dattel

Israeli parents nationwide, backed by a number of regional authorities, plan to extend a protest against overcrowded classrooms, and some parent-group leaders are supporting a strike to shut down Education Ministry schools.

The so-called sardine protest against overcrowding in classrooms began roughly three months ago and in June disrupted schools throughout Israel. Last week, representatives from the movement met with Finance Minister Yair Lapid and demanded that he reverse a decision to group the nation's first-graders into 40-student classes instead of having more classes with fewer students. In addition, they demanded that first-graders be allotted additional classroom hours. The protest has been joined by parents from all over the country.

Protest leaders have also called on the Finance and Education ministries to create and allot funding for first-grade classes of no more than 32 students instead of the 40 that have been approved for the coming school year. In 2008, the government decided to reduce the maximum class size to 32, but the decision was never implemented.

Erez Menashe, a father of three from Holon and one of the sardine-protest leaders, said the cost of implementing the demands would be less than 1 percent of the Education Ministry’s budget.

The "Defense Ministry went over its budget by 1.8 billion shekels, even before Operation Protective Edge,” he said, adding that the funds required to reduce class sizes were reasonable. Another protest representative estimated the cost of implementing the movement's demands at 400 million shekels ($117 million).

Classrooms in Israel are the most crowded in the western world. And that crowding is expected to worsen in the school year starting September 1 after a decision, discovered by TheMarker last April, that would end elementary-school classes funded by local authorities.

The protest organizers say they expect a strike, but whether studies will be fully disrupted remains unclear. If the strike goes as planned, it will be the first time that the school year has started with such disruptions since 2007.

Many leaders from local parents associations throughout Israel have committed to support the strike. The Israeli National Parents Association, which represents parents from around the country and is funded by the Education Ministry, did not join in the decision to strike.

Following the social protests, Education Minister Shay Piron decided to create a joint commission for local-authority representatives and parents-association leaders to examine the possibility of assigning more teachers per class. When the commission’s recommendations will be implemented is unclear.

Piron and Education Ministry Director-General Michal Cohen have said that the ministry will reject any proposal that would increase the number of classes in schools, and force local authorities to abide by regulations and assign at least 40 students to each class. The ministry decision, published in May, required local authorities to shut down classes with less than 40 students that were funded by local authorities and not by the Education Ministry. That decision that led to public protests and criticism.

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