Sa'ar backtracks; school year to start on September 1

Education Minister says took decision not to cut short summer vacation after issues dealing with teacher vacations were brought to his attention.

gideon saar_311  (photo credit: Ori Porat)
gideon saar_311
(photo credit: Ori Porat)
The decision to shorten the school summer vacation will only be implemented ahead of the 2012/2013 academic year, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar announced on Monday, less than a week after his ministry said that the coming school year would start on August 26 instead of September 1.
Speaking at a press conference in Tel Aviv, Sa’ar said the main sticking point was that the vacation days that would be lost in order to start the coming school year early are considered part of the current school year, and if they are removed, teachers would not receive all of the vacation days they are legally owed.
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Sa’ar said the issue hadn’t come up during the discussions held with the teacher unions in April and May.
“Unfortunately, the National Teachers Union went back on its agreement to shorten the summer vacation this August. As someone who stands at the head of the education system, I decided to announce that, unfortunately, the school year will start on the first of September,” the minister said.
The decision to cut short the summer holiday was announced by Sa’ar last Tuesday after a committee he had appointed a year ago to examine the issue presented its findings in favor of the plan.
Under the plan announced last Tuesday, the lost summer vacation days were to be added to vacations throughout the year, including three days between Yom Kippur and Succot, and one day at the beginning of both the Hanukka and Pessah holidays.
The plan did not call for changes in the Arab, Druse or Beduin school sectors, which celebrate religious holidays at the end of August.
At Monday’s press conference, Sa’ar said, “I wanted to bring a change that is for the better of the public and I’m sorry that I was not able to do so.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t carry out the move as planned. At the end of the day, the responsibility is mine, no matter what was suggested to me or not; at the end of the day it’s mine, as the person who stands at the head of the education system.”
Sa’ar said he still believes summer vacation is too long and that there are too many breaks at the beginning of the school year, both of which he thinks can be solved in part by shortening the vacation as he had originally planned.
The National Teachers Union issued a statement on Monday saying its secretary-general, Yossi Wasserman, met with Sa’ar on Monday and told him of the legal issues involved in cutting the teachers’ August vacation days and that “the education minister heard the position of the teachers unions and announced the delay of the implementation of the decision until next year.”
Sa’ar’s decision was met with harsh criticism, including from the Kadima Party, which issued a statement calling the move “another bluff by the Netanyahu government.”
The statement continued, “Sa’ar’s embarrassing zig-zagging and his complete and total capitulation before justified public criticism bear witness more than anything to Israel’s amateurish leadership.”
MK Alex Miller (Israel Beiteinu), chairman of the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee, offered his endorsement of Sa’ar’s decision, saying that “the desire to organize the vacation schedule is important and positive for the education system, but because of the short notice, the costs outweighed the benefits.”
Yehuda Zafrani, deputy CEO of Ophir Tours, said that he and others in the tourism industry support the decision to cut the summer vacation, but that waiting till next year would make things easier for teachers and those who already reserved vacations for late August.
Zafrani said that after the decision was announced last week, his company received dozens of calls and cancellations, although most people waited to see if the Education Ministry would go back on the decision.
“We are very happy that he listened to the public and changed his decision, and that all those who planned their vacation during those days will call and reorder them,” Zafrani said.