The school administration at Ramat Hasharon's Alon High School recently imposed a collective punishment on a 12th-grade class following a prank carried out by a student last year. The "educational" punishment chosen was the cancellation of the students' participation in the annual heritage trip to Poland, scheduled to depart tonight.
"You don't do a thing like that," a student in the class who was afraid to use her name said on Sunday. "It's just not a punishment. This is an educational trip and they're preventing us from being part of our journey as Jews to learn about our history."
And according to another student: "This is an inappropriate punishment and it's just a way to stomp on us."
He added that a few days ago, there had been a meeting with students during which the administration had asked them to come to the airport to greet the other 12th graders upon their return from Poland. "We told the principal that it would just be humiliating, so he said he would take that into account and get back to us," the student said.
"They did not look into the incident and who did it and they certainly did not agree to our request to find a different punishment," said a third student. "I'm really upset; it's humiliating and there isn't anyone who even cares that we feel this way."
And the crime? During a class last year, one student set off a cellphone ringtone that sounded like a siren. As a result, the class was cut short and the students went to the sealed room. Immediately afterward, they learned that they would be punished collectively and would not be allowed to travel with their friends on the trip to Poland the next year.
"It creates a situation in which they turn the trip into a privilege instead of a moral obligation," said one student. "It is something that is important to do and not something to be toyed with and used as prize or extra bonus. It's not an annual class outing."
His friend added: "I'm eating myself up from inside. And what for? Because of some silly prank from last year? We're kids; we do silly things."
A girl from another 12th grade class who will leave tonight for Poland said: "They could easily have found out who did this and could have punished just him and not the entire class... The school has a kind of mentality where the perpetual threat is they won't travel to Poland: 'If you cut class, you won't go to Poland,' 'If they catch you smoking, you won't go to Poland.'"
Another 12th-grader related: "I myself decided not to go to Gadna (Youth Corps pre-army training program ) because I don't support the idea behind it, that military education can take place in the school. They immediately threatened me that I wouldn't get to go to Poland and only in the wake of a letter I wrote did they eventually allow me to go."
"I just think the principle of punishing this way is simply shocking," said a mother of a 12th-grade student who is going on the trip. "The mere fact that the Poland trip has become a means of deterrence and for every problem this threat is pulled out."
"A prank is something that must be dealt with, but punishing an entire class in this way is sending an educational message that Poland is a punishment or a prize. This is, after all, an educational endeavor on the part of the Ministry of Education; it's really a delusional idea. It's like saying, 'You won't learn history.' We parents spoke among ourselves; maybe it was convenient for them to drop one class, because they have too many students, otherwise it's impossible to understand such a future punishment for the year to come.
"They'll probably say now that it's a class of 'troublemakers' and it makes life much easier to label students."
The Ministry of Education's Tel Aviv District office stated: "In cases where principals decide not to take students on the trip, the ministry relies on their judgment, since a student's behavior is a key consideration when selecting participants to join the trip. It should be noted that the school did not punish the entire class, as it was decided to allow two students from the class to be part of the delegation."
A statement from the municipality on behalf of the school said: "The Alon High School implements the recommendations of the committee to evaluate the behavior of the youth delegations to Poland and follows the director-general's bulletin with regard to selecting the participants. Instead of the trip to Poland, these students will take part in a unique program and travel in Israel as part of an educational program focusing on the inter-generational effort to get to the land of Israel and Jerusalem, while learning about the period of the Holocaust."