School children in class.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
With Tuesday marking the end of the elementary school year, the Forum of Regional Parents’ Unions is taking the fight over classroom sizes to the attorney- general’s doorstep, in yet another attempt to force the government and Education Ministry’s hand.
Over the course of the past month, the forum has disrupted classroom schedules with a rolling wave of strikes throughout the country.
On June 15, the Knesset Education, Culture and Sport Committee convened to discuss the issue and MK Ya’acov Margi (Shas), head of the committee, called for a halt in the classroom disruptions until after the forum held a meeting with Michal Cohen, director-general of the Education Ministry.
Margi also instructed the ministry to publish the findings of the Simchon Committee, which was commissioned by former education minister Shai Piron to research student/teacher ratios in the classrooms.
The Simchon report was delivered to Cohen in January but has not been published or acted upon. Forum members who were part of the committee have spoken out about the findings of the report, which they say recommends a maximum of 32 pupils per classroom.
On June 18, after what it deemed an unsatisfactory meeting with Cohen, who has still not published the Simchon report, the forum announced that strikes would resume.
MK Yoav Kisch (Likud) joined the parents’ struggle by introducing a bill that would legislate 32 as the maximum number of pupils in elementary school classrooms.
The bill was brought before the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday, only to have the committee postpone the discussion for 45 days.
On Monday morning, the forum decided to pursue an additional avenue in its war against overcrowding of classrooms and turned to Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein.
The forum is asking Weinstein to instruct the Education Ministry, Finance Ministry, and the government to “fulfill [their] obligations as expressed in the decisions of the government and to act in accordance with the judgment given in the National Labor Court…” Eyal Baum, head of the Ramat Hasharon Regional Parents’ Union, member of the Forum of Regional Parents’ Unions, and one of the lawyers who wrote the letter to Weinstein on behalf of the forum, spoke to The Jerusalem Post on Monday and explained the actions being taken by the forum.
According to Baum, there have been numerous government decisions from as far back as 2007 limiting the number of pupils in a class to 32.
Even before the Simchon Committee, the Freedman Committee delivered a report in 2008 with similar conclusions regarding classroom sizes, offering a multiyear plan to implement the proposal.
“The government decided in four separate decisions to implement [the Freedman Committee recommendations] and nothing happened,” said Baum.
“[Judge Steve Adler] even noted in his decision on this matter that there is a governmental obligation not just towards the teachers but to the citizens of the country,” he explained.
Judge Steve Adler served as president of the National Labor Court and was one of three judges presiding over the case brought by the teachers’ union in May of 2009.
Among other things, Adler specifically referred to the issue of classroom sizes in his ruling: “This is a public commitment to improve the education in Israel, a commitment aimed at the whole of the country’s population, and particularly to the student body. Such an undertaking, aside from its legal status, also has moral validity. Implementation of the plan that the government undertook, to reduce the number of pupils in classrooms, along with the additional learning hours and further reforms in the future, are an investment in the most important resource of the State of Israel, its human resource, which constitutes the future of the State of Israel.”
The final decision from that case ruled that the multiyear plan for minimizing classroom sizes is a governmental obligation, adding NIS 30 million for the 2008/09 school year, NIS 150m.
for the 2009/10 school year, and NIS 200m. for the 2010/11 school year and every year thereafter until the full implementation of the plan to lower classroom sizes.
“There was money allocated for [reducing classroom sizes] and the money disappeared. Where is the money?” asked Baum.
Baum went on to accuse the Education Ministry of trying to bury the Simchon report, as it did with the Freedman report, which was never implemented.
Baum said that the forum is demanding that Weinstein investigate the education ministers since that ruling, to see why the ruling was never implemented and where the money has gone.