Piron and Border Mayors Meet as New School Year Looms

State agrees to more preschool aides, shorter bus routes and extra funding for mental health, but a week before the school year starts many questions remain unanswered.

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Education Minister Shay Piron (center, in the suit) meeting with mayors from the south, August 25, 2014.
Education Minister Shay Piron (center, in the suit) meeting with mayors from the south, August 25, 2014.Credit: Adi Yisrael
Yarden Skop
Yarden Skop

Education Minister Shay Piron and ministry director general Michal Cohen held two meetings on Monday with mayors of communities near the Gaza Strip to discuss the start of school, which is scheduled for September 1, in light of the ongoing rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

The first meeting was for towns and regional councils within seven kilometers of the Gaza border, and the second for communities located between seven and 40 kilometers from the border.

At the first meeting, all five heads of local government in attendance said their schools would open next Monday as planned but emphasized that parental choice was important to them. “I want to open the school year in order to give parents the possibility of sending their children if they need to,” said Eshkol Regional Council chairman Haim Yellin.

He and his colleagues said they wanted to shorten the routes of the school buses in the area and reduce the number of children riding on each. Currently, the buses wend their way through every community in the area. The Education Ministry agreed to the changes.

The question of whether soldiers will escort the buses was left open.

The mayors also said their preschools needed more aides to guide the children to a shelter in the event of a rocket siren. Cohen promised this would be done by providing national service volunteers, soldier-teachers or students at military academies. In addition, she promised extra funding for additional mental-health support and stress-reducing programs for students.

The ministry said it had also looked into the possibility of distance learning, and this remained an option for communities under heavy fire if other solutions didn’t pan out.

Different issues were raised at the second meeting, which focused on communities farther from Gaza, and in many cases, mayors raised problems that were specific to their own communities. In some communities, for instance, the regular schools aren’t fortified against rockets, but specialized schools known as eshkolot payis, which run science and arts programs for local students, have been rocket-proofed. It was therefore decided to move classes there.

The mayors also advocated staggering class times so that all the students won’t be arriving at or leaving the school at the same time.

Ministry officials said that in any case, they aren’t planning any real coursework during the first two weeks of school, but rather activities to relieve stress and to ease the students back into the routine of school.

At one point, Ashkelon Mayor Itamar Shimoni stalked out of the second meeting in fury. Participants said his demonstrative departure came after he asked Piron for a “security response” to the situation and Piron responded, “I’m just the education minister; I can give an educational response.”

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