Pupils' Rights Law Paralyzing Teachers, Labor MK Warns

Education minister says revoking law 'is an extreme step that will send out the wrong message.

Weaker groups in society - according to new research - have used controversial laws to protect themselves, but now Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar and Labor MK Einat Wilf are squaring off on opposite sides over the Law on the Rights of the Pupil.

Wilf wants it revoked. Sa'ar, speaking at the conference "City without Violence," which was held on Thursday in Eilat, said he will oppose the move.

 Gideon Sa'ar
Nir Kedar

According to a new study that examined the cases in which courts made use of the law in judgments during the past decade, it has been used by the socioeconomically weak to protect themselves against discrimination and other infringements of their rights. Contrary to the common belief that the law has resulted in an inability to counter violence in schools, the study shows that the court judgments that referred to the law made nearly no reference to issues of authority or the standing of the teacher.

Sa'ar says that revoking the law "is an extreme step that will send out the wrong message and will intensify the sense of alienation that pupils feel toward the education system."

Participants at the Eilat conference included retired judge Saviona Rotlevi, who said recent months have seen "a discourse taking place on the relation between granting rights to children and violence in society, a discourse that lacks an academic, ethical or judicial basis." Rotlevi added: "Instead of a discourse on rights there is populist rhetoric against children and pupils."

Rotlevi, who used to be the vice president of the Tel Aviv District Court, said yesterday that doing away with the rights of pupils is like "bringing back slavery and annulling the right of women to vote. Doing away with the law opens the way to the cancellation of other laws that safeguard rights."

MK Wilf said yesterday that she intends to meet with Sa'ar "who has expressed willingness to discuss different parts of the law."

The new research on the use of the Law on the Rights of the Pupil was conducted by Dr. Dan Givaton of the School of Education and the Faculty of Law at Tel Aviv University. Givaton examined 82 court rulings in various cases in courts at all levels, from Magistrate's Courts to the Supreme Court, since the law was passed in 2001.

According to the research the main article in the law, that "every child and youth in the State of Israel is entitled to education," appeared in 50 percent of the court rulings. Most of the cases involved discrimination on the basis of the pupils' ethnic background, petitions on issues of special education and access to education among poor communities.

Analysis of the judgments showed that 30 percent of the cases dealt with discrimination; 20 percent with the issue of the poor's access to educational opportunities; and only 10 percent of the cases had any mention of problems with discipline.

Commenting on the new research, Wilf said: "The Law on the Rights of Pupils has become a symbol of anarchy in schools, which paralyzes the teachers. Very few of these issues are brought to court. It is sufficient for a parent to send a letter from a lawyer to school to make teachers feel threatened."

These research findings, however, conflict with two of the main arguments Wilf has used against the law, that it is used to protect violent pupils and works mostly to help the wealthy, who are able to appeal to the courts.

Givaton said: "It would have been expected that the rich would make use of the Law on the Rights of the Pupil, but in practice it is mostly a tool for the weaker communities. Canceling the law will be an act of barbarism. There is no precedent in the West in which rights granted to any group were revoked.

Givaton also said that if the law is compared to similar laws in other countries, the Israeli version is "fairly modest and far from being ground-breaking in the area of pupils' rights."

But Wilf argues that the "law has undermined the rights of most of the pupils in order to protect a few children. In real time the children need to have status and authority. It is the weaker pupils, whose parents are not lawyers, who are the main victims of this situation, which allows the few thugs to take over the rule of freedom."