Panel to Discuss Future of Days Off in School System

YERUSHALAYIM -
Israeli children riding to school on an Egged city bus. (Flash90)

In the wake of complaints by parents who were caught off guard by the last-minute move of the Lag BaOmer school vacation, the Knesset Education Committee has met to discuss the issue of days off in the Israeli school system.

A recent report on Channel Two revealed that Israeli students get seven times more days off than their parents do – a higher ratio than nearly anywhere in the world. The Israeli state school system provides students with 80 days off a year other than Shabbosos and Yamim Tovim – compared to the average 12 days of vacation for parents of those students, according to the Channel Two report, based on data culled from the Education Ministry, Labor Ministry, and Central Bureau of Statistics. That means that children – from kindergarten age and up – are left to their own devices for 68 days a year. Or, if parents do not wish to leave them alone, with bills for camps, babysitters, vacation programs, and other activities to occupy them while they are at work.

The issue came to the fore when Education Minister Naftali Bennett switched the official school day off for Lag BaOmer from Sunday to Monday. Bennett was concerned that students in secular schools would begin their celebration of Lag BaOmer – mostly consisting of lighting large bonfires – before Shabbos was over. The change came about ten days before Lag BaOmer, leading many parents to complain that they had already made arrangements for the care of their children on Sunday, which for most parents was a regular work day – and that it was too late to change those plans.

Speaking at the meeting, MK Oded Firer, who together with MK Yulia Malinovsky has filed a bill that would set policy on days off, said that “the time has come for the Knesset to have its say on this matter. We intend to set up a panel that will make recommendations that will change the structure of vacation days in Israel’s schools and kindergartens.”

MK Firer added that the aim of the panel will be to create a better match between the days off of workers and schoolchildren, and that some days off might be eliminated. Teachers’ groups have been concerned that the changes will be to their detriment, as they might have to work extra days. MK Firer said that any changes will be “gradual, and will not be implemented in a sudden manner, as the Lag/Lad BaOmer situation was.”