Israeli Pupil's Drowning During Field Trip Leads to Charges Against Teacher

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Tiberias.Credit: Dreamstime

After six years of legal wrangling, a teacher and lifeguard were charged on Tuesday with criminally negligent homicide in the case of the drowning of Jerusalem 10th grader Netanel Irani on a 2009 class trip to the Tiberias hot springs. 

Indictments were handed down In Tiberias Magristrate's Court against Tzachi Avraham, coordinator for the 10th grade at the Ort Givat Ram High School in Jerusalem at the time, and in charge of the annual school trip, and Guy Rivack, the hot springs lifeguard.  

The decision to file the indictment followed an appeal by the deceased's sister, Merav Zamir,  of a State Prosecutor’s decision to close the case without any charges.  The union representing secondary school teachers has filed a protest against the rare indictment of a teacher. 

“Despite the long time that has passed since the filing of the appeal, it is an important day for all parents. The meaning of the filing of the indictment is that the government rejected the position of the teachers union, which tried to fight the decision and claim the teachers have no responsibility,” Zamir said Tuesday. 

A report by an Education Ministry inquiry released six months after the drowning found a long list of failures and mistakes on the part of school staff. No teachers were present while the students were in the pool, after a full dinner. The students were given no safety instructions and the school failed to abide by safety rules, the report said.

Irani drowned in a heated sulphur pool. The students had visited the Golan Heights, and on that day, the second evening of their trip, they had dinner at the hot springs. Afterwards at about 8 P.M., they were allowed to go swimming. Irani was pronounced dead at 8:30.

The inquiry had also recommended an investigation of principal Moti Alkaslasi be investigated about the trip involving 230 pupils accompanied by 15 teachers and 12 other adults.

Despite the findings, prosecutors decided in 2010 to close the case citing a lack of evidence. 

Zamir appealed and in early 2014 the State Prosecutor’s Office announced it would file indictments. In response, the teachers union forced the cancellation of many school trips,  and demanded immunity for teachers in such cases. The union was granted the right to a hearing before charges were filed in such cases.

The Justice Ministry  said it held a hearing for the suspects before the appeal, and that only two of four suspects were indicted. 

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