Teacher Violence Against Students Shrouded in 'Conspiracy of Silence'

They slap students and call them 'baboons' - but they're still in the schools.

The recent rise in school violence has not only involved students assaulting teachers, but also verbal and physical abuse of students by teachers, Education Ministry sources say.

"There's a conspiracy of silence about teachers' violence against students," one ministry official said. "It's much easier to blame the children, [to say] they're the ones disturbing, swearing and acting violently. Very little has been said about teachers' violence. But every case of abuse or humiliation scars the pupil for years."

In early December, Ori Karpel, a fourth grader at the Tzofeh Hasharon school in Alfei Menashe, received an outstanding report card. But when she rose to receive her report, the teacher said to the class, "finally, the tick receives a commendation."

Karpel said the class rippled with laughter, and her fellow students adopted the nickname the teacher had given her.

Other parents said the same teacher made their children stand facing the wall and called one pupil a "baboon."

Ori's father, Zvi Karpel, complained to the principal and the municipality, and two weeks after the incident, he said, the principal called a meeting with the parents and told them the teacher would be dismissed due to all the complaints. However, the teacher is still teaching the same class.

"I realized the system only cares about the teachers, not about education," Karpel said yesterday. "Education Ministry officials did their best to whitewash the case. After three months, I've given up hope of the ministry dealing with the problem."

Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar has been promoting a "zero tolerance" policy toward student violence and unruly behavior. But the focus on students has pushed aside the issue of teachers' violence, both verbal and physical, and the question of how the ministry should handle it.

"Many cases of systematic, prolonged verbal abuse by teachers remain inside the system," said a retired ministry official. "Nobody likes to make a fuss, and sometimes the teachers and principals protect each other."

The last Meitzav exam, a standardized test that measures Israeli students' achievements in fifth through ninth grades, did not include a question about teacher violence, as previous ones did. But in the 2008 exam, 21 percent of students said a teacher had insulted, humiliated or ridiculed them, and 8 percent said "one of the teachers grabbed me, pushed me or hit me deliberately."

Few cases of teacher violence lead to disciplinary measures by the Civil Service Commission, which is responsible for some 80,000 teachers. The commission's figures show that in 2009, disciplinary steps were taken only in 204 cases, covering a wide range of offenses, from inappropriate behavior to fraud. Of these, 65 teachers were charged with physically assaulting pupils, compared to 28 five years ago.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg of a much wider trend," an Education Ministry official said.

The number of complaints lodged with the police against teachers has also increased, from 31 in 2008 to 75 last year.

"The education minister and the ministry director general cooperate with us, but not every case comes to the ministry's attention," said the head of the Civil Service Commission's disciplinary department, Assaf Rosenberg. "The system is huge. The law requires sexual or violent acts against minors to be reported to the police or welfare authorities. But we discovered cases, like a teacher who sexually harassed female students, that nobody reported to the police."

The commission's annual report about teachers' offenses includes the case of a kindergarten teacher who bound a boy's legs together with adhesive tape. In another case, after a 14-year-old disturbed a lesson, the teacher "took hold of his shoulder, slapped him several times in the face, knocked him to the floor and asked him to crawl and ask for forgiveness, in front of the entire class."