Classrooms across the country sat empty on Sunday as many parents and pupils congregated outside elementary schools in protest of overcrowding.
The Forum of Regional Parents’ Unions called on all parents to keep their children out of elementary schools on Sunday, despite the Education Ministry’s insistence that schools would operate normally.
According to the forum, more than half-a-million elementary school pupils in some 88 municipalities and regional councils were affected by the strike, a move the forum called an “unprecedented achievement.”
Not everyone agreed with the strike. The Education Ministry and the National Parents’ Association had called on parents to send their children to school on Sunday and said that schools would be open and operate normally.
Some of the regional parents’ unions decided not to formally join the strike. Inbal Oren-Brand, a member of the Karnei Shomron Regional Parents’ Union, explained to The Jerusalem Post that while the local union supports the efforts to minimize class sizes, “we decided that it hurts the children... because some of them have end-of-year parties and others are preparing [for them].”
Rather than strike, the union in Karnei Shomron showed support for the protest by hanging signs outside the schools.
Hadassa Braun Margolese, a mother of two girls in the elementary school system, lives in a regional council where the parents’ union decided not to join the strike, a decision she was not happy with.
“I would support a strike, 100 percent,” Braun Margolese told the Post.
She spoke about the difference between the classroom experiences for her daughter in fifth grade, with 27 pupils in the class, and her daughter in second grade, with 34 pupils in her class.
In larger classrooms, she claimed, teachers are quick to recommend prescribing medication for “difficult” pupils because it is too difficult to deal with “out-of-the-box children.”
Teachers need pupils to be at the same level of learning, explained Braun Margolese, because it is impossible to relate the various needs of so many young pupils. “None of us are the same,” she said, “we all have different needs.”
“And you can’t only blame the teacher,” she said, “because they have so many students.”
For Braun Margolese, the problem is so severe in the larger classroom that her family has decided to relocate to find a better school for their daughters, one where they can receive adequate attention in the classroom and will be allowed to be out-of-the-box.
“Our children spend most of their lives at school. Most of the children I know are not happy going to school. And that shouldn’t be the case,” she said.
Not all parents feel the same way about supporting the strike. Marion Rosen, a mother of four children, including two in the elementary school system, was happy that her regional parents’ union decided not to join in the strike.
Rosen spoke to the Post about the difficulties of her children getting off schedule when they don’t go to school, particularly during the tail-end of the school year.
“In the last week of school it’s hard enough for the teachers to maintain a sense of learning,” she explained, adding that disrupting the schedule with a strike would make it impossible to teach anything.
More to the point, while Rosen sees the problem with overcrowding in the classrooms, she does not think that a strike will solve it.
“Remember the cottage cheese [protest]?” she asked, pointing out that while there was a drop in prices immediately following the protest, the price has recently crept back up, nearing its pre-strike mark.
“They’ll cut the max class size to 35 or 34 and over the next two years it will creep back up to 40,” she predicted.
Rosen pointed out an additional problem, that of school overcrowding, meaning there is no room to open additional classrooms. Her son’s school wouldn’t be able to split classes even if the Education Ministry gave the go-ahead to do so, she explained.
Meanwhile, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation discussed a bill proposed by MK Yoav Kisch (Likud) that would legislate a maximum of 32 pupils per elementary school classroom.
Classroom sizes need to be reduced to deal with the phenomena of violence, lack of patience and tolerance in the classroom, and low test scores, according to the bill.
Teachers of large classrooms cannot track learning and social changes in pupils, something that makes up a crucial part of their role in the classroom, it added.
The committee decided to postpone the discussion for 45 days.
“The management of the Education Ministry decided not to decide anything on this sore subject, which touches millions of pupils in the State of Israel,” Kisch said in response to the committee’s decision.
“First and foremost, we must supply our students with adequate learning conditions to guarantee their success. I hope that the education minister will adopt the conclusions of the Simchon Committee to reduce classroom sizes as soon as possible and will support my bill,” continued Kisch.
The Simchon Committee was commissioned by previous education minister Shai Piron to put together a recommendation regarding classroom sizes. The committee submitted its report to the Education Ministry in January, but it has not been published and the ministry has not acted upon the recommendation to lower classroom sizes to 32 pupils per class.
“I will continue in this struggle with all the parliamentary tools at my disposal,” promised Kisch.
Some regional parents’ unions will continue to strike until the end of the school year on Tuesday, and the forum is threatening not to allow the new school year to open in September if there is no satisfactory agreement with the Education Ministry regarding class sizes.