Teachers urged to ‘take responsibility,’ resume class field trips

The teachers cancelled the trips in an effort to place pressure on the Education Ministry to meet their demand that they not be liable for any criminal charges regarding the students' safety.

Israeli student [Illustrative] (photo credit: MEIRAV KFIR)
Israeli student [Illustrative]
(photo credit: MEIRAV KFIR)
Some half a million high school students, grades 7 through 12, went on strike Wednesday in response to the to the cancellation of all annual class trips by the Secondary School Teacher’s Association.
The students declared the strike on Tuesday after last week’s announced by the Association that it would cancel all annual class trips and all activities outside school premises beginning on Monday January 11, 2015.
The teachers cancelled the trips in an effort to place pressure on the Education Ministry to meet their demand that they not be liable for any criminal charges regarding the students' safety and well-being on school trips.
On Wednesday, the teacher’s associations’ actions received harsh criticism from political figures, student organizations as well as parents and students alike.
MK Amram Mitzna, chairman of the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee called on the Teacher's Association to end their strike immediately and take responsibility for students on school field trips.
The Knesset committee convened Wednesday for an emergency discussion regarding the recent escalations surrounding the issue of legal responsibility of school field trips.
“The principal issue is that of legal responsibility. Each person with a position in the public system is responsible for the security and safety of children. You can create safety nets with regards to civil lawsuits, but you cannot create a preliminary safety net regarding criminal lawsuits,” said Mitzna.
“Nobody is immune from criminal prosecution,” he added. “I am willing now as chairman of the Education Committee to convene a small team along with the legal adviser, to find the tools to protect teachers, but only provided you end the strike immediately.”
Ran Erez, chairman of the Secondary Teacher's Association said in response “You cannot play yo-yo with the teachers. Teachers are not obligated to go on school trips, it is not in our job agreement.”
According to Erez, teachers lack the necessary training to accompany students on annual school trips.
"Teachers, most of them aged 55 and above, cannot look after the students all hours of the day.  When the trip ends without casualties the teachers should congratulate themselves and pray the Gomel.  We are not asking for sweeping criminal immunity, but we can set a different bar for teachers and implement filters before we reach court,” Erez said.
“We were not trained to be responsible for the safety of students or to be trip chaperones.  We are not willing to do this work without a safety net,” he added.
Despite their staunch position, the Office of the Deputy Attorney General released a legal opinion on Tuesday stating that it could not grant immunity from criminal charges to teachers.
“The Teacher's Association request for immunity from prosecution with regards to negligence on school trips was examined by us and we did not find that we could grant blanket immunity from prosecution in these events.  Granting immunity as stated is not acceptable and we believe that there is no justification,” the letter stated.
The deputy attorney general called on the Education Ministry to find alternative solutions to ensure the safety of students on school trips in order to minimize the teacher’s liability from criminal prosecution, rather than eliminate their responsibility.
Michal Cohen, director-general of the Education Ministry wrote an open letter to school principals and educators on Wednesday stating that the ministry invests "great resources" in ensuring the safety and well-being of students and teachers alike on class trips, including training and preparing educators for the trips.
As such, she said, “the ministry established procedures to ensure the frameworks for trips and accompanies them through control and supervision.”
She added that from ministry data over the years, criminal prosecution against teachers has occurred in isolated incidents.  "Experience shows us that complying with ministry guidelines prevents disasters and abnormal incidents during school trips," she concluded.
According to Cohen, the ministry is continuing to hold negotiations with the Teacher’s Association and with the Student Council in an effort to resolve the issue.