Israel Seeks Court Order to Keep High School Teachers on the Job Until End of June

Education Minister Yoav Gallant is demanding that high school teachers work nine extra days to make up for the time when schools were closed due to the coronavirus crisis

Shira Kadari-Ovadia
Shira Kadari-Ovadia
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Gymnasium Rehavia high school in Jerusalem.
Gymnasium Rehavia high school in Jerusalem.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Shira Kadari-Ovadia
Shira Kadari-Ovadia

Israel’s Education and Finance ministries, along with the Federation of Local Authorities, filed a court petition on Thursday seeking an order requiring the country’s high school teachers to continue working until the end June to make up for the time schools were shut amid the coronavirus crisis.

The petition was filed with the National Labor Court in Jerusalem.

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For its part, the Secondary School Teachers’ Union has said that the teachers continued to teach students remotely at home.

Education Minister Yoav Gallant canceled a meeting with Ran Erez, chairman of the Secondary School Teachers’ Association, that had been scheduled to discuss the teachers’ union’s refusal to have its members teach the additional nine days. Classes at the country’s high schools had initially been scheduled to end on Friday of this week. (The elementary school year is slightly longer and had initially been scheduled to end on June 30.)

Erez told Haaretz that the teachers continued to teach via remote learning when schools were closed and said the Education Ministry would “make a mockery of itself” in court. "We have a labor contract that says that we finish on the 20th of the month,” he said. (This year the 20th is actually a Saturday, when school is not in session.) “We have fulfilled our part of the contract.”

A statement from Gallant explained that he had scrapped the meeting with Erez because the union leader had asked to come to it with other members of the union’s management. “We regret that the national teachers’ union chairman is again opting for petty politics over the wellbeing of the country’s students and teachers,” the statement said.

This is the second time within a week that Gallant has canceled a meeting with Erez. On Thursday of last week, he didn't attend a meeting of the coronavirus cabinet.

Erez said that he had wished to have other members of union management join him at the meeting with the education minister, who has been on the job for a month, because he didn’t know how Gallant “would act. “He could say ‘Ran agreed.’ I wouldn’t go alone to a meeting with someone who I don’t know.

“In civilian life, there are no orders,” Erez said, alluding to Gallant’s former military career, in which he reached the rank of major general. “The school year is over tomorrow [Friday]. If they wanted to extend it, they needed to talk to us. Up to now, they haven’t spoken with us.”

Erez said that the Finance Ministry had requested “a gesture,” which he said was sought to satisfy Yaffa Ben-David, the secretary general of the Israel Teachers’ Union, which represents primary school teachers. She had agreed to have her members work the additional nine days. “We can’t make a gesture of nine days of work for free,” Erez added. “If the entire economy chips in, we will too.”

The main point of disagreement with the Secondary School Teachers’ nion relates to 10th grade teachers, because the two sides have a verbal agreement that 11th and 12th grade teachers will continue with preparations for their students’ matriculation exams as needed. The elementary school union has conditioned its agreement to extend the school year on an extension of the year for the 10th grade, however.

Ben-David, who in addition to representing elementary school teachers also represents kindergarten teachers and some junior high school faculty, signed an agreement with the Finance Ministry in early April agreeing to extend the school year into July by nine days to make up for a period when there was no distance learning at the beginning of the imposition of COVID-19 limitations. But that provision is conditioned on 10th grade teachers’ also working an additional nine days.

The Finance Ministry accepted the condition because it expected to be able to come to a similar agreement with the high school teachers, but Erez’s union has not entered into negotiations with the ministry.

And now Yaffa Ben-David is insisting that the condition be respected on the principle of equal treatment. On Thursday of last week, she sent a letter to her union’s members in which she stated that “there won’t be a situation in which you work more than other teaching staff that isn’t preparing for matriculation exams.”

As part of an effort to address the continued incidence of the coronavirus in the country, which has prompted the shutdown of many schools amid COVID-19 outbreaks, Gallant issued instructions giving students taking their matriculation exams alternate exam dates if they are unable to take an exam the first time it is given due to the virus. The second round of exams will be given between August 3 and 6 for students who have the virus or are in quarantine during the first exam period.

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