40% attend Ashkelon schools after rocket fire

City waiting for Defense Ministry to okay reinforcement plans for 10 schools, 22 kindergartens.

Kassam field cool 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Kassam field cool 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Urban Parent Committee of Ashkelon called an open-ended strike late on Sunday to keep schoolchildren away from classrooms following a surge in the number of rocket attacks on southern Israel and Ashkelon in recent days. The committee's chairman Yinon Jibli said that children were being kept away due to the government's failure to protect educational facilities. Ashkelon is waiting for the Ministry of Defense to approve plans to build reinforced classrooms at ten schools and 22 kindergartens, which currently have no protection whatsoever against incoming projectiles. On Saturday, Palestinians fired an upgraded Kassam rocket at Ashkelon which tore through an empty school, destroying classrooms, and spraying pieces of shrapnel in all directions. The parent's committee held a situation analysis meeting with the Ashkelon municipality on Sunday night, before deciding to keep children away, contrary to a decision by the municipality to keep schools in the city open. By Monday afternoon, the decision's effect was visible in school attendance figures - only 40 percent of students came to school on Monday, and 60% of young children attended kindergarten. The committee's decision excludes 11th and 12th graders who are studying for their matriculation examinations, as well as those attending special needs educational classes. Committee chairman Yinon Jibli said he viewed Saturday's rocket attack as if it had ended with student deaths, and added that children would be kept away for an unspecified period of time until action was taken. Acting Mayor Shlomo Cohen pressed Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai for an answer regarding plans for reinforced classrooms on Sunday evening. He was told that Vilnai favors the plans, but could not commit to a date for their construction since the decision lay with the government and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Cohen said he understood the parent committee's decision, adding that he "shares their anxieties." He added, however, that schoolchildren who live in homes that are unprotected against rocket attacks would remain at risk by staying at home. "A disruption of the education system means paralyzing all regular life in the city. Therefore, although we understand the concerns and wishes of the parents, all educational institutions in the city will remain open," Cohen said.