Row over closure of kindergartens for Lag B’Omer, just 2 days after they reopen
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Jerusalem municipality says its daycares will open Tuesday

Row over closure of kindergartens for Lag B’Omer, just 2 days after they reopen

Teachers union says daycare staff can work voluntarily on Tuesday; Treasury said to tell union it will be taken into account in negotiations over possible school year extension

Kindergarten staff clean in the city of Modiin on May 7, 2020 (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Kindergarten staff clean in the city of Modiin on May 7, 2020 (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

A row broke out Friday between parents, kindergarten staff and teachers unions after the latter suggested daycares could voluntarily remain open Tuesday for the festival of Lag B’Omer, after outcry that they would shut their doors just two days after reopening.

“In the last few days, we have received many requests, expressing a desire to volunteer for Lag B’Omer and create educational continuity and a sense of security and routine for kindergarten children,” the union of kindergarten workers said in a statement. “We see this as a noble initiative, indicating a deep commitment to kindergarten children and the State of Israel. Therefore, in light of these special circumstances, we call upon kindergarten staff who want and are ready to help students, to come and volunteer during the Lag B’Omer vacation.”

Yaffa Ben-David, head of the Israel Teachers’ Union, welcomed the initiative for Lag B’Omer, which is a normal work day for most, but reiterated that staff should not be forced to work without pay, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

“The principle that educational staff should not give up their days off still stands. We will not force teaching staff to work without pay. At the same time, the teaching staff is a dedicated public and there were kindergarten workers who expressed their willingness to volunteer on Lag B’Omer to maintain continuity.”

Secretary-general of the Israel Teachers’ Union Yaffa Ben-David speaks during a protest event in Tel Aviv on August 29, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

According to Channel 13 news, the Treasury has written to Ben-David and asked her to allow teachers to work on Tuesday, saying it will be taken into account during negotiations over a possible extension of the academic year to make up for days lost to the lockdown.

Channel 12 reported that the statements caused disquiet among some teachers, who felt the situation would pit them against parents if they chose not to work that day.

“How dare Ben-David pass it on to us so that she looks good? She offered and we are the witches who don’t want to do it,” wrote one in an anonymous group. “Very simple — I don’t volunteer at my job,” another kindergarten teacher wrote.

Meanwhile, the Jerusalem municipality announced that kindergartens under its jurisdiction would remain open and that the salaries of anyone working would be covered by city hall.

Children aged 3-6 are expected to return to kindergartens and preschools on Sunday in groups of no more than 18. The majority will attend only three days a week so that the limits can be maintained, and there won’t be afternoon programs, meaning the day will end at 2 p.m.

The children will be further divided into two permanent subgroups to operate in separate spaces in the kindergartens and courtyards.

Getting small children into daycare is seen as key to helping parents return to work as the lockdown restrictions ease.

Children wearing face masks play in a field at HaSharon Park, in Hadera, Israel, on March 23, 2020. (Chen Leopold/Flash90)

But with kindergartens set to run only until 2 p.m. and schools ending at around 1 p.m., the national parents’ forum on Friday called on Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to release compensation payments for the restarting of afterschool programs.

“Wake up. Stop the delusion of a return to routine. What sort of routine is it when we are forced to leave work at noon to collect our children or worse, remain home to care for them. Release the financial aid for the programs,” the organization said in a statement to the Kan public broadcaster.

The Health Ministry on Wednesday okayed a deal under which government-supervised daycares for children up to the age of 3 will also be allowed to open Sunday, albeit with caps on class sizes that may keep thousands of toddlers at home.

Private facilities are additionally said to have reached an agreement with the Finance Ministry over compensation for a 40-day shutdown that brought public life to a near-standstill, however they have not yet received final protocols from the Health Ministry.

Israel is in the midst of emerging from the lockdown and reopening stores, schools, kindergartens and more, as the number of new infections have appeared to slow to a mere trickle.

Israeli students wear protective face masks as they return to school for the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus on May 3, 2020 in Jerusalem (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

In Israeli schools, grades 1-3 and 11-12 returned to school this week with smaller classes and strict health procedures.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday he expects all students will return to classes by the end of the month, while universities and colleges are set to reopen on June 14. Schools will likely have to rotate attendance, as they do not have enough classroom space for all students to maintain social distancing at the same time.

At schools, pupils were being divided into groups, each of which, under Education Ministry guidelines, was to remain together for all classes and breaks. Each group was to have dedicated bathrooms as well.

Schools were among the first institutions to shut down in mid-March, a move that was quickly followed by stricter measures that brought the economy to a virtual standstill and forced many to remain at home as the country sought to prevent a large outbreak of COVID-19.

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