The timing of the checks has caused much dismay among parents since the impetus for their implementation only came after a pedophile teacher named Shaul Shamai, a 48-year-old from Rishon Lezion, was charged in June with multiple counts of indecent acts against a minor.
Working as a substitute teacher in an elementary school in northern Tel Aviv from October 2016 until June 2017, Shamai was indicted for sexually harassing four second grade students and a 13-year-old girl he was privately tutoring. He was also charged at the Magistrate's Court in the city with working at an institution despite being convicted of a sexual offense.
Shamai was arrested after one of the students told her mother he had hurt her, and the mother complained to the principal.
Since the Education Ministry began examining the backgrounds of school workers, nine sexual offenders were found to be employed over the last year as substitute teachers in elementary schools throughout Israel while 31 teachers were barred from work due to suspicions found in their criminal records.
As a result, every one of the nine teachers who were convicted of sexual offences were issued with a letter informing them that their employment had been terminated and that they were no longer permitted to fill any position in the Education Ministry.
Furthermore, the schools where they were employed were provided information about the offenders so as to prevent any possible slips through the net as happened with Shamai.
In addition to the reinvigorated vetting by the ministry, Chairperson of the Israel National Council for the Child (INCC), Vered Windman, who heads the non-profit’s legal branch, approached the ministry’s Director General Shmuel Abuav, asking him to prevent any further oversights by extending the background checks to include every single currently employed teacher.
“We have no doubt that the vast majority of educational workers are fit for the job,” Windman began in her letter. “At the same time, we are extremely concerned by the possibility that while this letter is being written, there are students who are not shielded from sexual attacks.”
She also heaped scathing criticism on the Education Ministry, highlighting the severity of the findings which had emanated from the recent checks, and adding that the fact that nine offenders had only been discovered now, while children were fully exposed to their sexual proclivities, constituted a grave indictment on its part.
Furthermore, Windman pointed out that some 70 criminal investigations are launched annually against staff members, among them teachers and administrators on suspicion of sexual offences against the students on school premises.
Responding to the INCC, the ministry assured Windman it was using all means at its disposal to ensure the safety, protection and wellbeing of Israeli students.
In an effort to absolve itself of prime responsibility, the ministry stressed on Saturday that the substitute teachers who were exposed for prior offences during the recent wave of checks were employed by the schools only after they had presented official documentation confirming they had no previous involvement in sexual offences.
In light of the new revelations however, schools were issued with new instructions by the Ministry of Education stipulating that no substitute teachers may be employed without official approval of the ministry itself.
Moreover, the instructions emphasized that in the absence of the required approval for substitute members of staff, he or she is also forbidden from stepping foot inside the school’s premises.