In an effort to maximize classroom time, the Education Ministry announced last week that it will no longer authorize delegations of elementary and high school students and staff to travel abroad during the school year. The decision, which was handed down by the ministry's director general, Dr. Shimshon Shoshani, is expected to be implemented next month, and while it will not affect international competitions or annual high school trips to Poland, the new ban will apply to exchange programs facilitated by the Jewish Agency - including the Partnership 2000 program, which sees hundreds of Israeli students visit the United States every year. Schools that have already purchased tickets for such trips abroad will be allowed to go ahead with their plans, an Education Ministry spokesman said on Sunday, but new trips will not be authorized. While the ministry has defended the move as part of Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar's vision of utilizing classroom hours to their fullest, critics of the plan said it would sever a vital lifeline between Israeli pupils and their overseas counterparts. "The Education Ministry is always talking about the importance of Diaspora ties," a source close to the issue told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. "But in one fell swoop they've cut off those connections with really no answer as to how the void will be filled - and people are quite upset." "It's not enough that Jews come here and learn about Israel," the source continued. "Israelis need to understand that there is vibrant Jewish life outside of the country and that Jews live proudly in locations all around the world." The source also dismissed the ministry's claims that the plan was being undertaken to maximize classroom hours, and instead pointed to recent complaints by parents at a Tel Aviv-area elementary school who said that the two-week trips their school was taking to the United States were undermining the classwork of students who decided to stay behind. Tel Aviv schools make up a large percentage of those that participate in the Partnership 2000 program, and have been sending delegations of pupils and staff to Los Angeles since 1997. "This whole issue really began as an internal one with the Tel Aviv municipality," the source said. "But now [the Education Ministry] has cancelled programs throughout the country based on parents' complaints. It's really a myopic view on the part of the Education Ministry." While the ministry on Sunday confirmed that the decision had been reached, it would not facilitate attempts to speak with Dr. Shoshani and no further comment was provided.