Some 1.5 million students returned to school Sunday after a two-month summer break. They were greeted by 120,656 teachers and school workers. About 134,500 children began first grade.
State officials also left their offices in honor of the new school year. President Shimon Peres visited an elementary school in Jerusalem, while Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter visited Sderot in order to examine the security arrangement in the rocket-battered town.
Meanwhile, two Qassam rockets landed in open fields outside Sderot on Sunday morning. The al-Quds Brigades, the Islamic Jihad's military wing, claimed responsibility for the attack; no injuries or damages were reported as a result.
Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal said following the rocket attack, "Unfortunately, we are not surprised. This only proves that we are expecting a year accompanied by rocket fire. Unfortunately, this is the routine we live in and the reality we are in."
Minister Dichter told Ynet that he welcomed the parents' decision to open the school year as scheduled in Sderot. "The Parents' Committee made a brave decision to send the children to school with mixed emotions. This is not a simple decision and it's pretty embarrassing. I salute the parents for opening the school year as planned."
Dichter said that had he lived in Sderot, he would have sent his children to school.
"I'm not saying that life in Sderot is not dangerous," the minister noted. "The school is prepared under the existing circumstances and the students must be trained. I hope we will change reality and we have the tools to do so. This is just a decision we will have to make."
Dichter visits Sderot school (Photo: Amir Cohen)
On Saturday evening, a Qassam rocket landed near one of Sderot's schools. Avivit Dahan, whose daughter Rotem began first grade on Sunday, hopes that her daughter's classroom is fortified.
"There is no doubt that the school is more fortified than our house," she said.
Meir and Evelin Ezra, whose son Noam also began first grade, said that "there so many talks about fortification, but that's not the solution. Our house is only a few meters away from here. On the way to school I was thinking what we would do if the Color Red (alert system) was activated. It's a roulette. We're gambling on our lives."
Minister Dichter replied, "The Israeli government's mandate is to guarantee peace and quiet. Unfortunately, this is not the strong part of the city. I cannot promise peace and quiet under these circumstances. All I can promise is that we are doing the maximum."
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
said Sunday morning, "I am happy that the parents in Sderot showed responsibility toward their children and decided to open the school year."
Speaking during a visit at an elementary high school in the city of Ramla, the prime minister added, "We will build 13 news schools in Sderot. I can say that every school in Sderot today, excluding maybe one small wing, is fortified according to the Home Front Command's instructions.
"We fear for the security of our children and teachers everywhere, particularly in a place like Sderot. in light of the dangers, we will do everything in a responsible manner."
Education Ministry data revealed that the number of students in Israel increased by more than 10,000 since last year, while the number of teachers and school workers grew by only 60.
In spite of the increase in the number of students, however, the number of classrooms opened across Israel
this year was reduced: 53,449 classrooms compared to 53,687 classrooms opened last year.
Soldiers at entrance to Sderot school (Photo: Amir Cohen)
The Education Ministry's situation room has begun operating and is prepared to receive reports on disruptions and strikes in schools across the country. So far, reports have been received on plans to strike in only 10 schools.
The main reasons for the strikes are local disputes between the parents and the school management over different issues: A principal's unsuitability, a violent student, an objection to a cellular antenna, etc.
Students in Christian Arab schools returned to school on Saturday. The Arab Education Forum in the Negev announced, however, that six schools and 12 kindergartens will be on strike.
Education Minister Yuli Tamir said that the opening of the new school year was being held "in an incredibly organized manner" and that there were only small local problems.
The minister referred to high school teachers' threats to launch a strike next week, saying that "we will continue our intensive discussions with the teachers, and hope that what started with a court order will continue in partnership.
"We have a new budget with a significant improvement in the teachers' salary, and it's a shame that teachers who belong to the Middle and High School Teachers' Association will not be able to enjoy it as well."
Aviram Zino, Moran Zelikovich and Shmulik Hadad contributed to this report