Education Ministry, Teachers Union reach deal on COVID testing, avoiding strike

After court injunction blocked planned teacher’s strike over COVID quarantine rules, new agreement includes distributing tests to all education staff

Israeli students arrive at school in the central city of Modiin on January 30, 2022. (Flash90)
Israeli students arrive at school in the central city of Modiin on January 30, 2022. (Flash90)

The Education Ministry and the Israel Teachers Union reached a deal Sunday to resolve their disagreements over COVID-19 testing and quarantine rules for schoolchildren, averting a possible strike.

Under the agreement, testing kits will be distributed to all school staff; all students in special education will be tested, with a handful of exceptions; and parents will be able to report children’s tests to a portal monitored by the Education Ministry and reported to the Teachers Union.

The sides also agreed to hold follow-up meetings with the director-general of the Education Ministry.

“Getting children back to school routine is the order of the day,” Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton said.

She added that the agreement would return kids to classrooms while “ensuring a feeling of protection for the educational staff.”

“The place for healthy children is at school,” she said.

The head of the Israel Teachers Union also hailed the agreement.

“We insisted on the principle that the state must also add to its considerations the health of teaching staff,” Yaffa Ben David said.

Yaffa Ben-David, head of Israel’s Teacher’s Union, arrives for a court hearing at the Labor Court in in Bat Yam, January 27, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The union called the strike last week over the regulations, arguing that they would put educators at risk of infection. However, the Tel Aviv Labor Court blocked the strike through Sunday and gave the sides until Monday morning to reach an agreement.

The new rules, which replace isolation for students exposed to COVID with increased testing, are aimed at maintaining a routine for schoolchildren and preventing the disruption of their parents’ workdays.

According to a Channel 12 news report Sunday, the number of students in classrooms has risen since last week, but at-home test kits remain in short supply.

The Education Ministry said that in high schools, just 30 percent of antigen rapid tests for students have been distributed, while at primary schools nearly three-quarters have been handed out.

The ministry also said only around 35% of parents reported their children’s test results Sunday morning, with some 3% of those coming back positive.

View of COVID-19 rapid antigen tests at a Magen David Adom drive-through complex in Jerusalem on January 10, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Earlier Sunday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett defended the new school rules.

The new rules are “putting 2.5 million students on the testing radar twice a week,” Bennett said during the weekly cabinet meeting, noting that his own children were no exception and that he had tested them that morning.

“Parents need to show responsibility, take care to test the children properly, and send them to school only if they feel well,” he said. “A few more weeks like this, if we all act responsibly, we will get through this wave together as well.”

Under the regulations, students must be home-tested for the virus on Sunday and Wednesday mornings, and after exposure to a known virus carrier.

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