Red Tape Puts Educational Program Into Israel's Legal System on Ice

School trips by Israeli schoolkids to nation's courts suspended until tender issues resolved.

The three Israel High Court justices hearing the petition against the appointment of Arye Dery as interior minister in Jerusalem, February 8, 2016.
Emil Salman

The Education Ministry has canceled school field trips to the law courts until further notice, for reasons that remain unclear.

The announcement was sent recently to all schools that had planned trips to courts this month. Thousands of students have had such trips canceled so far, and the longer the freeze lasts, the harder it is to find a time to reschedule them.

Moreover, some 130 workers who organize and operate the trips have been left without work indefinitely.

The trips are run by a company called EduSystems that manages projects for various government ministries. EduSystems won an Education Ministry tender to run this project in place of Ariel University, which ran it in the past.

To carry out the project, which is intended to enhance students’ understanding of civics and democracy, the company hired part-time tour guides and coordinators to organize and run the trips nationwide – to the Supreme Court in Jerusalem and to lower courts in Be’er Sheva, Nazareth, Haifa, Rishon Letzion and Herzliya. Some 43,000 students visit the courts every year.

The company’s contract expired on January 31, and the ministry was expected to renew it. But on January 26, the ministry official responsible for supervising the project was transferred to another job.

The main victims are the tour guides and coordinators, who found themselves without work at the start of the month with only a few days’ notice and have no idea when or if their jobs will resume. Their contracts also expired on January 31, but EduSystems had told them not to worry, as they would be rehired once its own contract was renewed.

“Our contracts were until the end of January, but we were told there was no reason to worry,” said one tour guide who is now out of work. “On January 31 we were told that since they’re negotiating with the Education Ministry, we can’t continue. I’m paid by the hour. The moment we were told this, our work relationship with EduSystems ostensibly ended and our shifts were canceled. There were already tours scheduled for February, and we were slotted for them, but everything was simply canceled. Most of us are students who are working while studying, and we’ve been left with no income.”

“The answers we got from the company were laconic; every few days there’s an update that the negotiations are continuing,” he added. “At first we said it would just be for a few days. Now it’s already been three weeks since the work stopped, and we have no way of knowing what’s happening, because we aren’t represented at the negotiations.”

Not only did the project stop early, but it also started late, at the end of November instead in October, apparently due to bureaucratic delays.

EduSystems said that bureaucratic problems have prevented the contract from being renewed, and that this isn’t uncommon when dealing with government agencies.

The Education Ministry said the contract would be renewed in a few days and the trips would resume. It declined to say why the official responsible for supervising the project was transferred just days before the contract expired.