Court blocks teachers’ strike over canceled quarantine for kids, classes to go ahead

Schools to open normally on Thursday despite strike threat, except in Jerusalem, northern Israel and parts of West Bank, where a snow day has been called

Illustrative: Students at the Ramon School in Modi'in, on October 12, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Illustrative: Students at the Ramon School in Modi'in, on October 12, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The Tel Aviv Labor Court early Thursday issued an order blocking plans by teachers to strike in protest of new rules exempting school kids from quarantine.

The order was issued after the government filed an emergency injunction against the wildcat strike, called by Israel Teachers Union head Yaffa Ben David.

Ben David had on Wednesday evening called on teachers not to show up to work the next morning in protest of the new rules, which, she wrote, will jeopardize faculty members’ health by allowing children exposed to coronavirus carriers to continue going to school.

Ben David’s announcement came shortly after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz decided to push ahead with Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton’s plan for the new quarantine rules, despite reported calls by health officials to delay it until more information about pediatric hospitalizations related to the virus could be gathered.

The move plunged hundreds of thousands of parents into uncertainty over whether there would be school on Thursday, with the ruling only coming just before dawn.

The exceptions were Jerusalem, northern Israel and parts of the West Bank, where school had already been called off due to a snow day.

Snow falls on Jaffa street in Jerusalem, as a heavy storm hits nationwide, January 26, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ben David’s move sparked opposition, not only from the government and parents but also from teachers.

“I think, again, this is not the correct decision,” Smadar Morris, principal of the Nofim school in Tel Aviv, told Channel 12. “Instead of working together in a difficult period, instead of jointly finding solutions, we are disjointed.”

“I think it is a big disgrace, and the wrong thing to do,” she said.

The head of the national parent-teacher association also spoke out against the teachers union’s plans to strike.

“In Israel, soldiers don’t flee battle; in Israel doctors don’t abandon their hospital shifts. In Israel, teachers don’t leave their kids,” Merom Shiff wrote on Facebook, in an open letter to Ben David. “Your wars, your power games, ego trips and handwringing are not to be done at the expense of kids who did nothing and whose most terrible sin is their desire to learn after two horrible years.”

Yaffa Ben-David, head of the Israel’s Teacher’s Union in Jerusalem, on March 15, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to reports, Ben David had been pressured by Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the Health Ministry’s head of public health, to oppose the planned nixing of kids’ quarantine. In recent days, health officials had reversed their initial support for the program, pointing to signs from abroad that the fast-moving Omicron may be putting more kids in hospitals, as well as worries over PIMS, a rare but serious disease that affects kids weeks after they recover.

The Health Ministry denied that Alroy-Preis had pushed Ben David to call the strike, but confirmed that the two had spoken about the plan to scrap quarantines earlier in the day.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton visits students at the Ramon School in Modi’in, on October 12, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Shasha-Biton, who has clashed with Alroy-Preis in the past and called for her firing, lashed out at Ben David for what she called “strong-armed political moves on the backs of Israel’s children.”

Ben David told Channel 12 that education officials were not aware of what was happening inside schools, with 40 percent of teaching staff already absent due to quarantine requirements or illness, which would only be exacerbated by the new plan.

“Kids will come to school on Thursday and there will be a huge mess because there’s not enough staff,” she said.

The Education Ministry said it would allow schools an extra 60 hours of substitute teacher hours to make sure schools keep running, at a cost of NIS 40 million ($12.6 million), Army Radio reported late Wednesday.

Under the plan, all students both vaccinated and unvaccinated will need to take two home antigen tests a week, on Sundays and Wednesdays, and report negative results to an Education Ministry portal.

A Magen David worker administers a COVID-19 rapid antigen test at a drive-through complex in Jerusalem, on January 17, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Children who test positive for COVID-19 at home will need to take an official antigen test at a state facility and isolate for five days if that too shows a positive result.

The announcement left unclear whether there would be any penalty for not testing among vaccinated students, stating only that those who are unvaccinated and refuse to take tests would be forced into quarantine when they come in contact with a confirmed carrier of the virus.

Those in close contact are encouraged, but not required, to test daily for five days.

There was also criticism Thursday that the promised tests had not yet been delivered, with the Education Ministry saying there was a nationwide shortage of tests.

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