School Students Threaten Strike as Teachers’ Sanctions Ground Field Trips

With no education minister to resolve legal responsibility for pupils outside school, teachers unwilling to accompany kids.

Rami Chelouche

School trips, including annual class trips and other activities off school grounds are being canceled because the Secondary School Teachers Association is not allowing teachers to accompany the students, and angry students are threatening to strike in response.

The situation is exacerbated by the lack of a functioning education minister, after former minister Shay Piron had to resign in the coalition chaos that led to the calling of new elections.

The teachers are demanding that they be absolved of any criminal culpability for the students’ welfare on school trips. The issue arose after a decision last month by the state to prosecute for negligence the principal and teachers of a 16-year-old who drowned at the Tiberias hot springs in 2009.

The National Student and Youth Council, in response, has written to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, asking his urgent intervention to bring a halt to the teachers’ sanctions, the students’ council said Sunday. “If no proper solution is found to the problem of sanctions by Wednesday, January 14, we will call a student strike and won’t come to school.”

At the Hugim High School in Haifa, students staged a demonstration against the cancelling of school trips. They carried placards reading, “No trips, no classes,” and “If we can’t hike, we’ll strike.” A member of the school student council explained that the 11th grade was supposed to have gone for a week of Gadna paramilitary training that was cancelled because of the teachers’ sanctions.

“The students’ message in today’s demonstration is that the teachers are right, but their protest shouldn’t be on our backs,” one student said.

The Education Ministry, in fact, does not have the authority to fulfill the teachers’ demand to absolve them of legal responsibility on trips. The issue has been referred to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, but getting a legal opinion on the matter will take time. Education Ministry sources accused the teachers of taking advantage of transitional period at the ministry.

In January this year teachers had also threatened to strike all activities off school grounds, due to a dispute over details in the wage agreement relating to the Oz Letmura reform, but Piron’s intervention led to the strike being halted soon after it was declared. Without an education minister, it isn’t clear who or what might get the teachers to back down.

High-school teachers are also refusing to give evaluations or fill out forms connected to diagnosing learning disabilities, to protest a new plan introduced by Piron before his resignation. Under the plan, each school can grant testing adjustments for the matriculation exams to only 10 percent of its pupils, and much of the authority for diagnostics and testing will be transferred to the schools.

According to union chairman Ran Erez, the new rules would put extra pressure on already overworked teachers and guidance counselors, and also put them in confrontation with parents and students over the granting of easier testing conditions.