Israeli schoolchildren and their parents awoke to another day of confusion and worry on Thursday, thanks to the joint efforts of a government that has trouble maintaining a coherent policy and a teachers’ union whose irresponsible conduct was only thwarted thanks to a labor court. But beyond the legal issue, this latest dispute once again demonstrated the enormous and malignant gap between setting policy and actually implementing it.
Eight days ago, the prime minister, health minister and education minister announced a new policy for schools that was to go into effect Thursday. Under the new policy, students who have been exposed to a confirmed coronavirus carrier will no longer face mandatory quarantine. Instead, all students will have to take a home coronavirus test twice a week.
This change was meant to reduce the number of children in quarantine, which has soared with the spread of the omicron variant. The previous quarantine policy resulted in a de facto closure of significant swaths of the school system. It’s hard to accept an unofficial lockdown of the schools while the rest of life goes on more or less normally. Moreover, not going to school causes real harm to students. Studies carried out in Israel and in other countries have found increased signs of emotional distress and dangerous behavior, including violence.
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Alongside the importance of maintaining an educational routine for students, the Education Ministry must also address teachers’ health. This includes guaranteeing an adequate supply of rapid test kits and involving teachers and principals in decisions. But the health and education ministries failed at both of these important tasks. It turns out that Israel is short millions of home coronavirus tests, and the cooperation of the school system’s largest union was not secured.
Nevertheless, these failures don’t justify the bonfire of chaos ignited by the secretary general of the Israel Teachers Union, Yaffa Ben David. Less than 12 hours before schools were due to open on Thursday, she ordered teachers in kindergartens and school to stay home, in blatant disregard of the legal protocol that must be followed in order to call a strike.
In so doing she made a mockery of the law, put pressure on parents and, as noted, was stopped only thanks to a labor court. We have to hope that going forward, especially in the light of the overall uncertainty of the coronavirus era, Ben David will refrain from rash, aggressive actions of this sort.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.