Thousands of kids to skip school over classroom overcrowding

Parents from more than 70 communities around the country won’t be sending their children to elementary school today, in protest at overcrowded classrooms.

The Education Ministry, however, is calling on parents not to disrupt their children’s educational routine and said schools will be open as usual. Protesting parents are seeking to limit the class size to a maximum of 32 students, as opposed to the 40 that regulations currently allow. They are planning to keep their children at home as the last means of protest they have before the school year ends on Tuesday.

The parents also want wealthier local authorities to be permitted to fund the splitting of larger classes into two smaller ones, something that is currently allowed but will be banned as of next year.

Communities expected to participate in the strike of elementary schools include Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, along with a large number of other towns. These include Ashkelon, Ashdod, Arad, Bat Yam, Herzliya, Hod Hasharon, Ra’anana, Kfar Sava, Ramat Gan and Netanya, plus several Arab communities. (Junior high and high schools already began their summer vacations two weeks ago.)

Striking parents from the Forum of Community Parents’ Committees has also threatened to disrupt the opening of the school year in September, if its demand for a maximum class size of 32 is not met.

The group asked the teachers’ unions, the association of principals and the heads of all local authorities to back its decision by declaring an open-ended strike starting September 1 until the 32-student rule is implemented.

Appearing Saturday evening on Channel 2 TV’s “Meet the Press” program, Education Minister Naftali Bennett said the parents’ strike misses the mark. “The distress is genuine, but school will be in session tomorrow as usual. The subject of overcrowding is on my desk. I am dealing with it,” said the minister, who only took office in mid-May. Bennett, who is also head of Habayit Hayehudi, promised to implement recommendations of an official committee from 2008 regarding the reduction of class size on a selective, “differential” basis depending upon the communities’ socioeconomic status. In other words, poorer communities would be given priority in getting smaller classes.

Nevertheless, Bennett acknowledged that “the problem at the moment is with more well-to-do communities,” meaning it is actually the wealthier communities where the problem is generally worse.

Explaining that he is working on an implementation plan, Bennett said the public understands that “a 30-year-old problem cannot be solved in a moment.” Expressing the hope that things will change by next year, he said it is his practice to make declarations only after things have been accomplished.

“In government coalition negotiations,” said Bennett, “I demanded money for a second aide [in preschools], for classroom overcrowding. But I’ve been in my job for five weeks,” he noted, adding he is committed to the issue and believes the parents are right to be concerned about overcrowding.

Last year, Education Ministry director general Michal Cohen directed schools to combine classes that schools had been divided into two – an order designed to preserve the principle of equality, so that wealthier communities would not be able to provide smaller classes while poorer ones without the funds would not.

The education minister at the time, Shay Piron, yielded to parental pressure and postponed recombining the classes for a year, at the end of which he pledged to find a solution. His Yesh Atid party, however, left the government last year.

Education Ministry sources said over the weekend that the ministry is proceeding in accordance with a cabinet decision on class size from 2008, which provides for maximum class size in elementary schools and junior highs around the country to be set based on the socioeconomic rating of the individual school population – ranging in size from between 32 to 40 students per class. In high school, the maximum number of students per class is 36.


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