'Sardine Protests' on hold while parents' union and education ministry hold talks

Chair of Education Committee scolds director-general of education ministry

Students in a classroom [Illustrative] (photo credit: REUTERS)
Students in a classroom [Illustrative]
(photo credit: REUTERS)
MK Ya’acov Margi, chairman of the Knesset Education Committee, called on the Education Ministry to limit the number of students in a classroom in the upcoming school year at a committee meeting Monday.
Margi also called on the Forum of Regional Parents Unions to halt their disruptions of school schedules around the country. The forum agreed to postpone all planned disruptions until after their meeting with the Education Ministry, scheduled for Thursday.
MK Michal Rozin, one of the initiators of the meeting, warned that if a solution is not found soon, the burden will fall on municipalities and parents will stop sending their children to state schools.
“We are not just fighting against the overcrowding in classrooms,” Rozin said at the meeting, “we are fighting for the survival of state public education.”
Rozin also warned that leaving the problem to be dealt with by local authorities would mean hiring contract employees instead of union teachers.
She called on the ministry to immediately implement the 2008 government limit of a 32 pupils per class.
“I trust and am sure that [Education Minister Naftali] Bennett has the ability and resources to find the budget. We cannot continue to abandon our students like this,” she concluded.
MK Rachel Azaria also spoke at the meeting, drawing on her experience as a deputy mayor of Jerusalem.
“Not enough classrooms are being built,” she stated, explaining that cities plan classrooms based on city-wide averages, which leads to younger neighborhoods suffering from overcrowding, while older neighborhoods have small classrooms.
Azaria also spoke about school buses, saying that adequate funding for buses can help solve the problem by spreading students out more evenly across cities, but noting that weaker municipalities cannot afford the cost today.
Forum member and chair of the Jerusalem Parents Union Paz Cohen told the meeting that, “This is a discussion of values before a discussion of the budget. The Simchon Committee submitted suggestions that have not yet been published.
We have the support of all the parents around the country to continue the fight.”
The Simchon Committee was appointed by the previous education minister, Shai Piron, to look into the issue of overcrowding in classrooms.
The committee submitted its report to the Education Ministry in January, but the results have not yet been made public.
The Forum of Regional Parents Unions said that the conclusions included reducing class sizes to 32 students.
Margi called on the Education Ministry to publish the Simchon report, including its financial projections. He also turned to the representatives of the ministry at the meeting with the following message for Michal Cohen, director-general of the ministry: “The director-general of the ministry will have to show up here more often. This is a burning issue on the agenda. The Knesset is not a one-way street.
If she does not show up, she will find that when she needs this table for amendments and legislation, we will not be here for her.”
Judith Kadesh, director of the elementary school division at the Education Ministry, stated that, “The education minister is taking this issue very seriously and it is on the table at a very high priority.”
David Mizrahi, director of the ministry’s budget division, added that the issue is being discussed in order to put together a long-term solution, but could not specify when there would be a decision.
The National Parents Association, which has been in discussions with the Education Ministry to find a solution for the overcrowding problem, also attended the committee meeting and laid out its plan for dealing with the issue.
The association proposes adding a teacher to any classroom with 38 or more students and sets out a long-term goal of decreasing the number of students per classroom by two every year over the course of the next five years.
“The National Parents Association believes this is a feasible and beneficial plan to decrease the overcrowding in classrooms and to allow for better conditions for students, both physically and in terms of the quality of education they will receive,” read their statement.
After the meeting, Paz Cohen stated that, “We believe that the chairman of the committee, the education minister, and the Ministry of Education have all understood the urgency of this issue. We won’t let up but we will allow the Education Ministry to work together with us to find a solution.”
Margi announced that the committee would reconvene on the issue next month.