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The High Court of Justice has ordered the government to reinforce every classroom and auxiliary classroom in all primary and secondary schools in Sderot and the Gaza periphery communities.
"There is no escaping the conclusion that the government's decision [to provide reinforced spaces in the schools instead of reinforcing each classroom] is unreasonable," a panel of three justices headed by Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch said Tuesday. The court was responding to two petitions submitted last year against the government's plan for protecting students in Sderot and the rural hinterland exposed to Kassam rocket fire.
The government estimated the cost of the additional work involved in reinforcing all classrooms and auxiliary classrooms at NIS 192 million.
The petitions were submitted by Kibbutz Kfar Azza resident Eduardo Wasser, the Sderot Parents Association and other individuals and groups.
Both petitions challenged the method of protecting students devised by the IDF's Home Front Command. According to this method, a few of the home classrooms were to be reinforced, while students in most other rooms would hurry out into a nearby reinforced zone, usually the adjacent hallway.
The government plan also did not call for reinforcing or establishing reinforced spaces near auxiliary classrooms such as science labs.
The system was based on the fact that an early warning system is in place in Sderot and the Gaza periphery communities which gives residents 15 to 20 seconds to seek shelter before a Kassam rocket lands.
During the hearings, the state decided to reinforce all the classrooms of grades one to three and to establish reinforced zones near auxiliary classrooms. Beyond these and some lesser changes, it insisted that the reinforced zone method was adequate and that reinforcing all the classrooms would cost too much money and could set a precedent for other parts of the country.
In March 2007, the state carried out a practice exercise in 153 classrooms dependent on reinforced zones. The results showed that 57 percent of the children reached the reinforced zone within 15 seconds and another 23% in 16 to 19 seconds. The state said the results would have been much better, but high school students were uncooperative and deliberately took their time reaching the reinforced zone.
"The results of the comprehensive exercise supports the petitioners' arguments that this reinforced zone does not provide a reasonable and sufficient security response to the dangers facing the children in those classrooms," the court said. It also said the early warning system did not always work and that sometimes Kassam rockets landed unexpectedly.
The court said even though the cost of reinforcing every classroom was high, it had to be paid because of the gravity of the threat to the children.