School Year Off to a Quiet Start
With the dawning of the first of September Thursday, some 2 million children packed their book bags and headed out on the road – back to school. After two months of fun and sun, children and teens from kindergarten to 12th grade returned to their studies, with all schools open and all teachers in attendance – a marked difference from the common “opening day strike” that Israeli parents are subject to in many years.
The reason for this year's labor calm was the the agreement in advance between teachers and the Education Ministry's on schools' implementation of the “New Horizons” and “Strength in Giving” programs. Under the programs, kindergarten hours will be extended by 30 minutes at most schools, with kindergarteners coming home at 2 PM this year. The Ministry and teachers' unions were able to come to an agreement on hours and compensation.
The Ministry set up a hotline to deal with opening-day problems, but officials said that things were under control. With that, many schools in the south were on high alert in the event of Kassam rocket attacks by Gaza Arab terrorists. Children were being given special instructions on what to do if the Red Color warning system was sounded, and what to do in case of a surprise attack.
One school in Petach Tikvah was striking because of a decision by the Ministry to close schools where the majority of students are of Ethiopian background, in order to prevent segregation. The students are to eventually be divided and sent to different schools, a move opposed by a group of parents in the school The parents are preventing students from entering the school, demanding that it be kept open.
The biggest trouble spot in the past few days has been in Beit Shemesh, where students of the Orot Girls' School went to class under heavy police protection. Orot parents and members of the local Hareidi community have been engaged in a fierce fight for the building, with the Hareidi groups demanding that the national religious girls' school be moved elsewhere and the building be used exclusively for boys. Both Hareidim and parents of the Orot children and other members of the local national-religious community have taken turns trying to gain control the building, with protests and sit-ins held by both sides over the past few days.
Officially opening the school year, President Shimon Peres, accompanied by Mayor Nr Barkat, visited the Habad elementary school in the Ir Ganim neighborhood of Jerusalem. Peres told the students that he was very impressed by them, and stressed o how important it was to get an education – both religious and secular.