Humiliating, disproportionate punishments evident in Israeli schools – report

Around 50% of the total protests came from those in secondary schools, the rest come from the second half of pre-primary, elementary and special education students.

Students going to school  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Students going to school
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A report by the Education Ministry's Implementation of Student Rights Law, published exclusively by the Hebrew newspaper Israel Hayom, disseminated a detailed list of 880 complaints filed across all public primary and secondary Israeli educational institutions. In nearly all cases, there were no instances of the teaching staff violating the existing penal code.
Out of those complaints, 225 deal with degrading punishments, school suspensions and even physical retribution carried out by educational authorities. Some 408 other complaints covered various issues such as privacy, security, violence and mistreatment.
About half of the total complaints came from those in secondary schools, with the remainder coming from pre-primary, elementary and special education students.
In one complaint, a student who arrived late to school was forced to stand outside the school gate, beyond the safety of the school walls, for an undisclosed period of time. Another complaint detailed a student whose school refused to award him a high school diploma due to his family's outstanding financial debts. In a third case, a teacher prohibited her students from drinking water during class; in another instance, a student's mother came to school to drop off her lunch, but was told by the school that she wouldn't be allowed to unable to, with reasoning undisclosed.
In a few rare cases, schools permanently expelled students without notifying their legal guardians; many families were unaware they had the ability to appeal the ruling.
"Humiliating punishment, which infringes on the dignity of the student, is not only invalid and contrary to the law, but it also contradicts the teaching profession and the model that an educator should be for [their] students," said attorney and advocate Liron Eshel, responsible for education in the Child Peace Council, according to Israel Hayom.
"An educational institution should encourage mutual respect between students and teachers, and provide a supportive, inclusive framework wherein all of its pupils feel secure, and educators provide a personal example as role models to their students," the lawyer said. "In all circumstances, disproportionate, abusive or humiliating punishment is a common phenomenon. The Education Ministry must denounce such phenomena and take measures to root out the phenomenon."
Complaints surrounding misconduct in educational achievements were also noted throughout the report. Some 91 of the complaints focused on matriculation exams or Bagrut. One example deals with a grade 12 student with learning disabilities who was asked to take the exam with students in lower grade levels, disregarding the way the relocation may have made the student feel. In this case, the National Supervisory Board found that the complaint went beyond the penal code.
Another odd case of unusual punishment occurred when a teacher refused to let a student take the Bagrut exams because he was sporting an unacceptable haircut; there was no indication in the report whether this violated the penal codes.
Other misconduct protests in educational achievements include teachers who forced students to take on higher-level coursework against their will, as well as a complaint that prohibited a student from going on a field trip to Poland due to bad behavior, and another that targeted a teacher who refused to give her students breaks between class periods.
Israel's Central District leads all complaints with 34% of the reported total. The Tel Aviv District garnered 22% of the complaints, and the Jerusalem District received 11%, followed closely by the Southern District (10%), Haifa District (9.5%) and the Northern District (8.5%). Only 5% of the complaints originated in the settlement blocs.
"There is no data to impeach the entire teaching staff, the vast majority of whom do their work in a dedicated and professional way," the Education Ministry said, according to the newspaper.
Israel Hayom concludes their summary by depicting a situation in which a student was placed next to a garbage can as punishment for talking to another student during a geography class. When the teacher caught the student identified as "A", who is now a sophomore in high school, the instructor put the two talking students in the corner behind the bin, "demanding" them to look at the class and think about how they are hurting their classmates by disrupting class. The student added that the situation almost brought her to tears.
"I know I was wrong, but we just didn't get what she was doing," "A" said, according to Israel Hayom. "We stood there for about fifteen minutes, while the whole class laughed at the situation; standing awkward and scared. I almost cried. It was insulting, but the teacher didn't care. When the punishment was over, she told us to go back and sit in our seats, and continued the lesson as usual.
"I'm sure if she had acted in a different way, I would have felt more comfortable coming to her other classes. Instead, I came in frightened. These humiliating penalties only make students more riotous," A concluded.
With many of these complaints going unchecked and some being found to be justified by the Education Ministry, the State Department of Education's Implementation of the Student Rights Law is pushing for reforms to better protects students at these impressionable ages.
The hope that by implementing these educational reforms, students in the future will not have cope with humiliating, disproportionate or inappropriate punishments from educators, and that the behavior of said educators towards young, impressionable students will come under greater scrutiny, which will hopefully curb the occurrence of these abnormal situations.
"We oppose and condemn punishment of students in a humiliating or shameful manner, and urge all teachers and educators in Israel not to act in this way but to examine together with the educational staff a punitive but justifiable disciplinary program," said the National Student and Youth Council.