Formal, informal education shut across Israel for two days in light of Iran attack

Education Ministry fields ‘a lot of complaints’ from parents of children with special needs over lack of support; some ultra-Orthodox schools open in defiance of procedures

Gavriel Fiske is a reporter at The Times of Israel

The padlocked gate of a closed school in the northern city of Tzfat, on April 14, 2024. (David Cohen/Flash90)
The padlocked gate of a closed school in the northern city of Tzfat, on April 14, 2024. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Ahead of the Iranian drone and missile attack on Israel early Sunday morning, Israel announced on Saturday evening a directive prohibiting all educational activities nationwide, effective Sunday morning through Monday evening.

With most of Israel’s school system already on Passover break in advance of the holiday next week, the directive, which was reconfirmed on Sunday morning, applies largely to para-educational activities, including “special education frameworks, dormitories, daycares and youth movement trips,” which were all to be canceled for two days.

The directive also forbids gatherings of more than 1,000 people, and also affected youth sporting events, classes, and other activities, as well as concerts and other large events. University classes were also canceled.

During the week before Passover, when schools are on a break but parents are usually still working, many parents depend on such frameworks, including Yulia Ben Moshe, 54, of the coastal city of Hadera.

“It’s so frustrating,” she told The Times of Israel by phone on Sunday. Her 16-year-old is confined to a wheelchair and needs a breathing apparatus and other special equipment, and having him unexpectedly stuck at home causes incredible difficulties for the family, she explained.

“We are in a hard situation, but the system needs to plan for this. Every time something happens, families need to deal with it alone,” she added, speaking specifically of parents of children with special needs.

View of an empty classroom at a school in Tel Aviv, during a general strike of some municipalities and local authorities, on May 15, 2023. (Flash90)

“This is a continuing problem during emergencies,” Ben Moshe said.

Revital Lan Cohen of the Coalition for Children with Disabilities, an umbrella group for parents of children with both mental and physical disabilities, said that “for children with special needs, they usually have to have frameworks. It’s not extra, it’s something for their specific needs.”

It’s understandable why the programs have to be canceled, she said, but “How can they expect parents to work? They can’t leave us without any support!”

Lan Cohen stressed that the special needs frameworks in place during times when the rest of the school system is on break are funded by the Education Ministry, which should be able to provide emergency support for families if those systems can’t function due to security concerns.

The ministry received “a lot of complaints” on Sunday from parents of special needs children, a source inside the ministry told The Times of Israel, and as a result, the ministry has made a special appeal to the IDF Home Front Command to reevaluate the situation and consider allowing those frameworks to operate as usual on Monday.

“We understand that it is difficult, and for the moment we are trying to deal with it. No one wants to endanger a child,” the official said. The closures are a security issue, and are not decided directly by the Education Ministry, the official noted.

Illustrative photo of yeshiva students at the Kamenitz Yeshiva in Jerusalem, on August 22, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

In the ultra-Orthodox school system, some of the institutions opened their doors on Sunday in defiance of the Home Front Command directive, multiple sources in the Hebrew media reported.

The head of the Lithuanian community, Rabbi Dov Landau of Bnei Brak, issued a statement Sunday morning ordering ultra-Orthodox schools and yeshivas to open for 4th graders and older, but to engage in Torah study only and not hold classes on other subjects, according to a Sunday Haaretz report.

The report noted that the larger Hasidic community was split on the issue, with some schools opening and some not. The ultra-Orthodox system has been ostensibly on break since the beginning of the Hebrew month of Nissan, last week. During such breaks, the buildings are often available for further learning and other uses.

In an uncharacteristically strong statement, the Education Ministry said Sunday that it “takes very seriously any violation” of the procedures issued by the Home Front Command, and that “educational institutions that do not comply with the guidelines will be dealt with harshly.”

Israel’s Arab school system, which had a break last week due to the end of Ramadan and the Eid holiday, is due to function normally this week except for the unexpected two-day cancellation, the Education Ministry said.

Most of the pre-army academy programs, which were slated to have had nearly a full week of activity, have canceled their programs and sent their students home, a Joint Council of Pre-Military Academies spokesperson told The Times of Israel.

The overnight attack by Iran saw some 300 suicide drones and missiles fired at the Jewish state, almost all of which were intercepted by Israeli and allied countries’ air defenses.

Since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas conflict on October 7, the Home Front Command has issued various procedures and restrictions for the population, applied to different areas of the country using a color-coded system and based on shifting security considerations.

The latest directive, issued Saturday evening, is in effect until Monday at 11 p.m., when the Home Front Command is expected to issue an update.

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