The Parents' Strike That Wasn't - According to the Education Ministry

The call by the National Parents Union (NPO) for a strike at elementary schools was partially heeded yesterday, with the NPO claiming schools in a number of towns shut down, but the Education Ministry stating that 90 percent of the schools remained open.

The NPO said it achieved its main goal of increasing awareness among parents and making them part of the struggle for education, while the Education Ministry and the Israel Teachers Union (ITU), most of whose members are elementary school teachers, said the attempt showed the NPO did not have a wide power base.

But the Herzliya parents committee announced it would shut down the city's elementary schools today in sympathy with the secondary school teachers, and that if the court ordered the teachers back to work, the parents' strike would extend to the entire city school system.

The Education Ministry said 90 percent of children in the younger grades went to school yesterday in the North and in Jerusalem, and close to 100 percent in the country's center. In other areas, attendence was 95 percent.

The NPO said the strike had encompassed elementary schools in several cities and towns with varying success, among them: Arad, Dimona, Kiryat Gat, Kiryat Malachi and Jerusalem. It is not clear whether the NPO data is a representative sampling of the pupils in each of the communities.

NPO chair Itzik Maimon said the strike had "woken up" the parents. "Last year the NPO was a dead body, and we managed to resuscitate it," he said. Maimon said the extent of the strike was less important than the "fact that everyone is talking about it. It is clear now that the parents will play a much more active role in struggles."

Education Minister Yuli Tamir said the NPO "does not represent the parents in Israel. This is an organization that was disqualified by the Registrar of Non-Profit Associations, and the Education Ministry has no relationship with it whatsoever."

The ITU argued that parents had voted with their feet and sent their children to school. "This strengthens our position that the right track to move the education system ahead is through negotiations and agreements, not through strikes."

The parents committee in Haifa did not close down the city's elementary schools, because no such instruction was issued, Sharon Yihya, chair of the Romema elementary school parents' committee said. Yihya said there was a great deal of confusion over the weekend as to whether there would be a strike. "You can't have a strike in some of the schools," she said.

The Nahariya parents committee said they had no intention of cooperating with the NPO from the outset. "Without reference to the legal standing of the NPO, which is questionable , I don't think a strike is the right way to go in the teacher's struggle," Iris Asa, chair of the Begin school parents' committee said.