Inside Israel

Teachers union head undeterred by backlash for strike call over nixing of isolation

Awaiting a final court decision after an injunction was issued Thursday blocking a planned teacher’s strike in protest of new rules that nix isolation for students exposed to COVID-19, the head of the Israel Teachers Union said she would not be discouraged.

“We are waiting for the [final] decision of the Labor Court,” union head Yaffa Ben-David told Channel 12 news on Thursday night. “All this conduct and all the shaming on social media toward me does not move me, I will continue to represent our dear teaching staff.”

Ben-David also denied reports she was pressured by Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health services at the Health Ministry, to call for the strike. Health experts on Wednesday recommended not to end schoolkids’ quarantine, but the government announced it would move ahead anyway.

“Alroy-Preis did not talk to me about a strike, I was the one who initiated the call because I wanted to hear her position,” Ben-David said.

In the early hours of Thursday, the Tel Aviv Labor Court blocked the wildcat strike called the previous evening by Ben-David, which Education Ministry Director-General Dalit Stauber called “illegitimate,” and state prosecutors said was “violent and political.”

Ben-David’s Wednesday announcement plunged hundreds of thousands of parents into uncertainty over whether there would be school on Thursday, with the court’s decision to block it only coming just before dawn.

High school students take a test at a school in the central city of Yehud on January 20, 2022. (Yossii Zeliger/Flash90)

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

The court’s injunction against the teacher’s strike remained valid on Friday, and a final decision on the matter was expected at the latest on Sunday, Channel 13 news reported.

Hitting back, Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton said Ben-David “shatters the fragile routine of children and parents and harms them. She knew about the plan, which was accepted by many experts for a week, and agreed to it. Her conduct does not reflect the dedication of the teachers on the ground.”

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

Also on Thursday, the Health Ministry updated its guidance on quarantine exemptions for schoolkids. Now, unvaccinated children with a family member who is a confirmed carrier will need to stay home for five days, and will be released from isolation with a negative antigen test result.

Under the old system, only unvaccinated children who were exposed and refused regular testing needed to stay home.

The ministry also said that those who recover will be exempt from needing to take twice-weekly tests for 60 days, as well as children in special education.

Still, only about 50 percent of students showed up to school Thursday, the Ynet news site reported.

According to sources cited by Ynet, the absences were chalked up to parents worried about their kids’ health, closed kindergartens due to manpower shortages, and kids being sick and in isolation.

According to Health Ministry data published Wednesday, there were nearly 200,000 schoolkids and 28,000 teaching staff quarantining after testing positive for COVID-19.

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