Kids’ Summer Programs May Not Be Ready to Open, Local Israeli Councils Fear

Only this week did the Education Ministry publish new format for summer programs in the coronavirus era, so the organizers don’t even know the size of their budgets

Shira Kadari-Ovadia
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A counselor runs an activity at an Education Ministry run summer program, Lod, 2015.
A counselor runs an activity at an Education Ministry run summer program, Lod, 2015.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Shira Kadari-Ovadia

A week before the end of the school year for kindergartens and elementary schools, the local authorities are claiming that there is a real problem with preparations for opening summer programs for children of those ages.

Education Minister Yoav Gallant recently announced that kindergarten and elementary school teachers will not have to teach an additional nine days in early July to make up for school closures during the coronavirus lockdown, and the school year will end on June 30. That means that the schools’ summer programs will begin earlier than expected, but local councils are still unprepared.

“We recruited coordinators for day camps, with the knowledge that they begin on July 13,” said the head of one city’s education department. “About a third can’t start working on July 1, or aren’t interested in doing so.”

Only this week did the Education Ministry publish an updated “manifesto” explaining the new format for the summer programs, so the organizers don’t even know the size of their budgets. “We’re registering thousands of children for summer programs without knowing how they’ll be budgeted and what the requirements of the Education Ministry are,” said one source.

“It’s impossible to know the program, or the budget for enrichment activities,” said a local council member, adding that it’s difficult to recruit Education Ministry-accredited kindergarten teachers for summer programs, which makes it questionable whether the programs for kindergarteners will open in the first place. Elementary schools have more teachers, so even if a relatively small percentage want to work in the summer, it will be sufficient; kindergarten summer programs have less wiggle room.

Another difficulty is the employment of kindergarten teaching assistants in the summer months. An agreement signed between the Finance Ministry, local governments and the assistants, represented by the Teachers’ Association, says they are supposed to work without additional pay for three months after the school year ends instead of just making up the days they didn’t work during the coronavirus lockdown.

Now, after the cancellation of the agreement with the Teachers’ Association, the assistants are demanding to be paid for working during the summer. In recent days the local governments and the ministry have attempted to reach an agreement with them. According to the Center for Local Government, “The teaching assistants received a salary as required during the coronavirus period and were not sent on unpaid leave. We’ll continue to take care of them now too, to ensure that the system continues to function.”

Now that nine make-up days will not be tacked onto the end of the school year after all, the Education Ministry announced a few days ago that registration for the first nine days of the summer programs is conditional on payment for the entire summer period.

That means parents who want to enroll their children in a summer program only until mid-July, the previously-scheduled end of the school year, will be forced to pay hundreds of shekels out of their own pockets – despite Gallant’s announcement that the nine days will not be conditional on payment by the parents.

“We were counting on school as usual until July 13,” wrote a mother on a Facebook parents’ group. “Now, without any warning, they canceled those school days and forced us to register for the summer program.”