After weeks of uncertainty, 1st day of school begins for 2.5 million Israeli pupils

Last-minute agreements with teachers’ unions avert large-scale strikes; 2,496,000 kids, 218,000 education workers head to class Thursday

Israeli kids wear school bags ahead of the first day of school outside their home in Jerusalem on August 31, 2022, ahead of the opening of the secular state education system's academic year. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli kids wear school bags ahead of the first day of school outside their home in Jerusalem on August 31, 2022, ahead of the opening of the secular state education system's academic year. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Some 2.5 million Israeli pupils are expected in class on Thursday, following months of threats and disputes between the Finance Ministry and teachers’ unions that threatened to delay the start of the new school year after the long summer months.

Last-minute agreements were reached this week that averted large-scale teacher strikes and will see nursery school kids, kindergarteners, elementary school, middle school, and high school students — and their instructors — back in school on September 1, the first day of the Israeli school year.

Parents, kids, and teachers have been on edge ahead of the opening of the new school year as negotiations appeared to start and stop over the past few weeks, extending to the 11th-hour — the evening before the first day of school was set to begin.

Some 2,496,000 pupils and 218,000 education workers will begin the year in 5,440 schools and 22,050 kindergartens around the country on Thursday. Some 177,000 of the pupils are starting first grade, and 136,000 are starting their final year of high school.

On Wednesday, the Finance Ministry and the Secondary School Teachers’ Association reached an 11th-hour agreement that will shorten the school week to five days and implement reforms in humanities high school matriculation exams.

Earlier in the day, a similar deal was reached between the ministry and the Israel Teachers’ Union, which represents nursery school, kindergarten and elementary school teachers.

Preparations at the Nisui School in Jerusalem, ahead of the opening of the school year Thursday, on August 31, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The agreement, which has yet to be signed, will last until 2026. It provides higher salaries for teachers and principals as well as performance bonuses. It also changes school vacation days to better align school schedules with those of working parents.

The sides also agreed to a more streamlined process for laying off teachers and a three-year wait before qualifying for tenure.

Ran Erez, head of the Secondary School Teachers’ Association, said that although the group’s demands were met, the “Finance Ministry is a champion at making things difficult.”

“All the students of the State of Israel are returning to school tomorrow and opening the school year with joy and celebration, including the high school students,” Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton declared.

From left to right: Teachers’ Union Secretary-General Yaffa Ben David, Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Bitton and Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman hold a press conference following the new salary agreement with teachers on August 31, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“A strong, stable education system with quality teachers is in everyone’s interest for the future of our children,” she said earlier in the day.

The final weeks of the previous school year were marred by strikes by the Israel Teachers Union in their struggle for better pay.

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