2.3 Million Israeli Students Begin School Year After Strikes Averted

As classrooms fill up, Tel Aviv Municipality says it will refrain from detaining the children of Filipino immigrants en route to school amid deportation crackdown

A teacher preparing a classroom for the opening of the school year in Rishon Letzion, August 2019.
Moti Milrod

The new school year opened as planned Sunday after the teachers’ union and secondary school teachers’ association called off a strike they had threatened days before.

The work action was averted after an agreement was reached Friday to gradually transfer about 170 million shekels ($48 million) for pension funds and sick days if the secondary school teachers agreed not to strike for six months. Also, a joint committee was established to discuss the reform in special education that was launched this year in the north and will eventually expand throughout the country.

Some 2.35 million students will fill Israel’s classrooms, an increase of around 40,000 over last year in a country of about 8.7 million people. The children will be taught by around 200,000 staff.

The number of ultra-Orthodox students is forecast to increase 16.6 percent by 2024, with the number of students at state Orthodox schools up 13.2 percent. Growth at state secular schools is expected to remain at about 2 percent annually, with the number of students in the Arab community’s school system falling slightly.

The Education Ministry, however, reported two disruptions in school openings Sunday. The chairman of the Al-Kasom Regional Council in the Negev, Salameh al-Atrash, called off class due to a lack of Education Ministry funding for unrecognized Bedouin villages in the region, keeping 17,000 students at home. Atrash says the Education Ministry has put the regional council into a deep deficit due to a lack of funding, a claim the Education Ministry denies.

Also, teachers in an equivalency program for teen dropouts launched a two-day strike Sunday over their work conditions. They are employed by subcontractors who refuse to negotiate with them over a collective wage agreement. The 4,000 teens in the program are in foster care, detention or prison.

Meanwhile, the Mateh Yehuda Regional Council near Jerusalem has organized an alternative school for some 300 of the 370 students at the Hashahar elementary school, whose parents failed in their bid to remove the school’s principal. The school will open as usual, the council said.

Failure to represent LGBT community in textbooks

Seventeen-year-old Guy, who starts 12th grade this year in the north, came out over the summer to friends and plans to tell his parents soon that he is gay. He’s not sure how his teachers will react and he laments the lack of LGBT role models at school.

“We study all kinds of people who are supposed to inspire us, but they’re usually men, rarely women, and never gay,” he says.

A study by IGY, the group Israel Gay Youth, underscores Guy’s feeling. Out of 36 textbooks in history used in secular public high schools, only about 0.04 percent of the material mentions the LGBT community, while issues relating to gender, sexuality and family are addressed in 89 percent of the texts.

Sources told Haaretz that preliminary discussions are underway between LGBT groups and the Education Ministry, with the ministry showing a willingness to make changes.

Foreign workers’ children

The Tel Aviv municipality told school principals that it had agreed with the Population and Immigration Authority not to arrest the children of Filipinos slated for deportation while the students are on their way to or from school. Still, the authority said the deportation of illegally resident Filipinos and their children would continue throughout the school year.