Parents Split Over Holding Strike

Conflicting statements by two parents' groups regarding a school strike today - and categorical announcements from the Education Ministry and Israel Teachers Union (ITU) that school will take place as usual - left pupils and parents reeling this weekend. Today will reveal the precise extent of the strike; a test of these groups' strength and of parents' identification with the striking secondary school teachers.

On Thursday the National Parents Organization (NPO) announced a one-day strike in grades 1 through 12, in solidarity with the Secondary School Teachers Association, which has been striking for a month and a half. The NPO said it is protesting "the government's indifference toward the profound crisis in education." But on Friday the group clarified that it was calling on parents not to send their children to school.

The NPO has supported the SSTA since it began striking in high schools and some junior high schools.

The Education Ministry announced Friday that the NPO's statement was "deliberately misleading the public," and that the organization's standing has not been legally processed.

The ITU, which represents most elementary-school teachers, announced that classes will be held today as usual.

Behind the scenes, a battle is going on over who represents the parents. Three years ago, the NPO, which until then was the only body representing parents nationally, splintered following internal arguments and suspicions of administrative and financial irregularities. The splinter group of parents, calling itself the Community Parental Committees Forum, claims it represents 80 cities and towns. NPO chair Itzik Maimon insists that his organization is "the parents' representative body, which is also recognized by the Education Ministry."

Maimon says the reasons for the strike are "the government's unwillingness to restore the instruction hours to pupils and reduce the overcrowding in classrooms." His group refrained until now from calling for a strike, but decided that the negotiations now "have little chance."

The head of the rival parents organization, Etti Binyamin, says the NPO does not represent parents, and that the strike was decided on "by Maimon and a handful of his friends."

Binyamin says she supports teachers' demands for higher wages, but "we are not willing for them to use the children like cannon fodder in the fight. The kids need to return to school."

She claims her organization includes the heads of parents committees in major cities, including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Be'er Sheva. On Friday, parents committees in several places, including Be'er Sheva, Holon and Kfar Sava, announced that school will take place today.

Since the SSTA strike began, yet another parents' group has organized, under the name Movement for Quality Education. According to its leader, Doron Erez, "there are two parents' organization that say they represent me, but neither of them has spoken or met with us in a long time."