Israeli After-school Day Care Must Adjust to Kids With Allergies, High Court Says

Parents were worried they would have to pay for personal chaperones, but the Education Ministry will now extend its guidelines to these tzaharon programs

Moti Milrod

The High Court of Justice ruled Monday that an after-school childcare program (tzaharon) cannot make acceptance of an allergic child conditional on the child having a chaperone but must adapt the program to allergic children based on Education Ministry guidelines.

The ministry in turn committed to apply its guidelines for allergic children to after-school childcare programs, and said it would write more specific instructions after Sukkot ends on October 11.

The presence of schoolchildren with serious allergies has become an issue as their number increases. Some children can have life-threatening reactions if exposed to certain foods, whether by eating them, touching them or even breathing in their dust. Some 8 percent of Israeli children are thought to have allergies, with one-tenth of them being so sensitive they need a chaperone at school.

The Education Ministry funds such chaperones, but afternoon day care programs are not a direct continuation of school — they are run by external contractors or by the Social Affairs Ministry, and responsibility for them was divided between various agencies until two months ago, when the Education Ministry assumed responsibility.

But sometime during the past year, before the Education Ministry took over, the Economy Ministry issued guidelines regarding allergic children in after-school childcare programs that many programs adopted this year. The regulation states: “In the event that the child is entitled to a continuous chaperone in the morning, the parent must provide similar assistance during the hours the tzaharon operates. Without such assistance, the child cannot be accepted.”

During the summer, many parents of allergic children complained they were suddenly having a hard time getting their children into the municipal tzaharonim, whose operators refused to accept them without a chaperone, which parents would have had to pay for themselves.

On August 31, the Israeli Food Allergy Association petitioned the High Court urgently, asking for an injunction against the Economy Ministry regulation. The petitioners argued that the regulation was discriminatory and that in any case the Education Ministry was now in charge of after-school programs.

“Our kids have not been in tzaharon since the start of the year,” said Naama Katzir Shmueli, a member of the group. “In a properly run country there would be no need to petition the High Court. In July it was decided that the tzaharonim would be the Education Ministry’s responsibility, so the whole chaperone issue should have been in the ministry’s hands and subject to its regulations. Unfortunately that didn’t happen.”

The parents demanded that the Education Ministry establish a clear and equitable national policy that makes tzaharonim accessible and safe for children who have allergies, even if it meant the ministry had to pay for chaperones.