Four of Every Five Schools in Israel Harbor Safety Hazards

Serious hazards found at 15% of schools; High Court of Justice agrees to address findings.

An internal Education Ministry report has revealed safety hazards in 80 percent of schools during the 2007-2008 academic year. Serious hazards requiring immediate repair were discovered at 15 percent of the schools. The report also points to only partial supervision of repair work to the safety hazards, with follow-up relying mainly on information provided by local authorities.

This week, the High Court of Justice accepted a Secondary School Teachers Association petition to address the matter of safety hazards in schools, despite the ministry asking for the petition to be rejected.

The Education Ministry carries out safety inspections of some 1,200 educational institutions each year. The inspections encompass schoolyards, surrounding fences, flooring, playground equipment, fire extinguishing systems and electricity systems. Data from the inspections show that only about 20 percent of the institutions checked were free of safety hazards. Serious faults, defined as "clear and imminent danger of personal injury if touched by accident," were found in about 15 percent of the schools.

In 65 percent of the schools, the safety hazards were defined as second and third degree hazards, whose repair should be incorporated into the local authority's work plan for the coming year. Visits to schools in the past few years have yielded similar results, although Rotem Zehavi, the Education Ministry's national safety supervisor, says that the general situation has improved over the years. Still, tens of thousands of students attend schools where serious safety hazards were found.

The worst safety hazards included potholes in schoolyards, uneven or broken floor tiles, broken staircases, exposed or damaged electrical outlets, missing banisters, sharp corners on playground equipment and loose sports equipment.

Zehavi notes that the Education Ministry does not conduct follow-up inspections. "We are in contact with the local authorities, and ask them to report on the most important repairs," he says, adding that in recent weeks the ministry has been drafting new, tighter inspection procedures for the coming year.

As for the petition filed by the teachers' union, an Education Ministry spokesman admitted the limited scope of the oversight mechanism for safety in schools. "Now it is clear that if the High Court of Justice does not intervene and the Education Ministry's priorities are not altered, we will take notice only after the next tragedy," said attorney Sigal Pail, who represents the Secondary School Teachers Association.