Education Minister Shai Piron met with heads of the regional councils in the south on Monday as part of an ongoing dialogue to determine security arrangements for schools near the Gaza border when the school year starts next Monday, September 1.
Ashkelon Mayor Itamar Shimoni walked out of the meeting with Piron and southern municipal leaders in Beersheba in protest at Piron’s announcement that the school year would begin as scheduled despite the security situation. Shimoni said that the school year would not start in Ashkelon as long as the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip continues.
“The education minister is trying to find the best solution for every place,” said Education Ministry spokesman Roi Flyschman.
“There will be some places where it will open as regularly planned, there may be places where it will start later due to transportation changes, but we’re a week away. If the teachers don’t feel safe, and the kids don’t feel safe, there won’t be classes there,” he said.
Piron also spoke with education officials about providing psychological support to students from the south after a difficult summer. Piron stressed at the meeting that “security is the top priority.”
Flyschman said the ministry would evaluate each town on an individual basis to determine the appropriate plan, including determining which schools have adequate protection, and some schools may not open at all. It was a departure from Piron’s statement last Thursday, when he said that the ministry was “prepared for any security scenario.” He claimed that “the school year will open as usual.”
A final decision on which schools will open will be made by regional councils and the Home Front Command, not the Education Ministry.
At the start of the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cautioned teachers and students to have patience as Operation Protective Edge dragged into its 49th day.
“I said on the first day of the operation that it could take time, and we are prepared that this campaign might continue even after the start of the school year,” he said.
Adele Raemer, who lives on Kibbutz Nirim and teaches English at the Eshkol Region schools, said she was put off by Piron’s blanket decision to start the school year at any cost. “When the minister of education says we’re opening the schools no matter what, I think it was a bit insensitive,” Raemer stated. Her teacher meetings are supposed to start this week, even though the communities are empty of children.
‘When the minister of education says we’re opening the schools no matter what, I think it was a bit insensitive’
“Yes, the school itself is fully protected, but it’s getting to the school,” Raemer continued. The dangers come not just from the bus in transit, but also making sure that the safe areas next to the bus stops can fit an entire busload of kids, or that the buses are protected, or that the kids are able to move quickly from the buses into the classrooms — all aspects that make it impossible to have students in the area while there are constant rockets, Raemer explained.
In some of the more rural areas, children have to travel upwards of 40 kilometers to attend school each morning on roads that are being bombarded by rockets, Shai Hajaj, the head of the Merhavim local council in the northern Negev, wrote in Israel Hayom.
Raemer, who stayed home in Nirim through the entire summer, said the worst part of the renewed rockets for children and their parents was that, during the ceasefires, they had felt that the war was mostly over. Nirim is less than two kilometers from Gaza, and over the weekend she watched the residents in her community return up north to their summer hosts, Kibbutz Mishmar Haemek. The elderly residents will be evacuated to Ein Gedi.
“You’ve got a lot of people that are confused and feeling unsafe again,” she said. “I’d gone back to sleep in my bed [not in the safe room] for two nights,” Raemer said. “We were feeling that the worst has passed, it’s going to be over soon and then, boom. That makes it even worse.”