Court Forbids Teachers' Strike After Israel Nixes Kids' COVID Quarantine

About 24,000 Israeli teachers have confirmed cases of COVID, and others are in quarantine with their young children who are also infected with the virus

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Students attend class outside in a middle school in Rehovot
Students attend class outside in a middle school in RehovotCredit: Hadas Parush
Shira Kadari-Ovadia
Shira Kadari-Ovadia

An Israeli court ruled Friday that teachers cannot go on strike following Israel's decision to exempt schoolchildren from quarantine, ordering that the teachers' union must negotiate with the Education Ministry. The court extended an injunction canceling the strike until Monday.

Last week Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced that all students will be exempt from quarantine if exposed to a confirmed COVID carrier. Following the announcement, teachers' union head Yaffa Ben David called on teachers to go on strike over the health risk posed by the new plan, which went into effect on Thursday.

Meanwhile, hundreds of preschools and daycare centers remained closed over the past few days because of a severe shortage of staff. About 24,000 teachers have confirmed cases of COVID, and others are in quarantine with their young children who are also infected with the virus. A survey conducted by the teachers' union last week found that schools were short about a quarter of the necessary teaching staff.

On Friday the court discussed the risk posed to teachers by the new plan. The teachers' union claimed that it was its duty to protect teachers and principals while the prosecution argued that the union does not have the right to use the organization's power in order to influence a government decision.

Last Thursday the court issued injunctions against the teachers' union, cancelling the strike which was announced Wednesday night by the organization's secretary general. The tribunal justified its decision by saying that the notice of a strike had arrived only 11 hours before the school day – an insufficient amount of time for an appropriate hearing on the matter. By law, unions are required to publically announce a labor dispute at least two weeks before going on strike. 

The secretary general of the teachers' union, Yaffa Ben-David, in the Labor Court, on Thursday.Credit: Moti Milrod

Officials at the union admitted at the time that they had no legal power to call the strike, but said they were left with no alternative after their attempts to influence policy in talks with government officials had failed.

Following the discussion on Friday, Yaffa Ben David said that the aim of the strike was to "make the cry of the teachers' distress heard." In a statement issued to the union's teachers, Ben David described the ruling as a victory, saying it is the first time the state has been ordered to confer with the union to discuss the implementation of a government plan.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton condemned the strike and Ben David's actions, accusing her of crushing students' school routine. "This does not represent the devotion of the teachers in the field," she said.

The Education Ministry issued a response to the court's ruling saying it "signifies the importance of keeping students in schools and kindergartens consistently, in order to provide for their educational needs."

Masks on a school fence in Givatayim, on Thursday.Credit: Hadas Parush

But parents say that schools are far from offering a consistent routine. “In my daughter’s school they haven’t studied in a regular way for over two weeks, because more and more teachers are sick and are not coming to school. One day, they canceled school completely because they simply didn’t have enough staff to teach,” said Or, the father of a third-grader in Ra’anana. Over half of his daughter’s class was infected with COVID, one student after another, but in spite of all the absences of students and staff the school has provided almost no solution for the children at home.

A strange situation has been created, in which half the class comes to school and the other half is sick at home with COVID, and no one is really learning because there are not enough teachers at school while there is also no one to teach the children at home, said Or.

In addition, the distribution of COVID test kits by the Education Ministry has not been fully completed, with students having received only two tests of the 20 allocated to each.

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