'We're being sent into battle with armor' say teachers

Schooling up to third grade is set to resume next week. Are teachers being forced to choose between their jobs and their health?

Yehonatan Gottlieb ,

Schoolchildren with teacher
Schoolchildren with teacher

Children from preschool to grade three are going back to school next week, but teachers have protested that they do not have proper protection.

Arutz Sheva spoke to several teachers, and the overwhelming sense is their feeling that the Education Ministry has abandoned them. “We’re being sent into battle without armor,” one teacher stated.

Many teachers have expressed the fear that they will contract coronavirus from their students. “We’re going back to work on Sunday with no protection from the virus whatsoever,” Shira* told Arutz Sheva.

“Teachers come into contact with a large number of children as well as fellow staff members,” she said. “But the schools haven’t been disinfected, and students won’t be required to wear face masks.”

Sarit*, another teacher noted, “Some of us have pre-existing medical conditions, including serious ones, which could limit our ability to combat coronavirus. And as things stand, it’s only a matter of time before we contract it. What’s more, some of us have family members with chronic health conditions [who we will be endangering].”

Another concern that has been raised is that family doctors have received instructions from “above” not to make an official admission that a teacher who returns to work at this point in time is placing him- or herself in a potentially life-threatening situation. Several teachers with underlying health conditions have turned to doctors requesting such a statement, which would enable them to legitimately refuse to return to work in present conditions, and have received evasive replies.

“We’ve heard from several doctors that they have received an extremely worrying instruction. They were told not to write that a teacher is in a life-threatening situation, even when the teacher concerned needs such a letter. They know that the Education Ministry will require such a statement in order to approve a teacher’s request, and so the doctors have been told not to provide it,” several teachers told Arutz Sheva.

“There’s not a single person here who is considering not returning to work,” Yonatan* was careful to emphasize. “We are all ready to work 24/7, to give of ourselves above and beyond. If only our Minister appreciated even a tenth of what we do – but he doesn’t get it, and he refuses to listen. We give of ourselves and are ready and willing to give, but not at the expense of our health and the health of our families. That’s where we draw the line.”

“I’m not scared of anything,” said Shira. “But this is the first time in my life that I’m actually afraid. I haven’t seen my father for months, and now that I’m returning to work, there’s no chance that I’ll see him in the next year. And he’s the only person I have.”

“We approached Yaffa Ben David (head of the Israel Teachers’ Union - ed.) directly,” she continued, “and our questions were either ignored or we were told: ‘Have patience – everything will work out in the end.’ And then wait, and wait some more. But time’s running out,” she said. “Ben David told us, ‘It was the Health Ministry that authorized the resumption of studies, and the government is the official body making the decisions. The government has decided to authorize the plan … they’ll only hold things back if there’s an increase in the number of new infections recorded.’”

The Union head added that, “On Thursday, we will issue detailed instructions after coordinating with the Education Ministry, and we will present solutions for all the problems raised, just as we found solutions to the issues that arose with the resumption of special education classes. Everything will be made clear.”

At the end of the day, many teachers said they now find themselves in an impossible situation. “I can’t allow myself not to return to work,” Sarit said. “Some of my students are from single-parent homes, and they need to be able to get back to work. But how can they expect teachers to place themselves on the front lines without any protection?”

*Names changed to protect privacy