Petach Tikva School Scandal: Abject Racism or Media Lynch?

When I first heard about 100 Ethiopian immigrant children being denied places in religious schools in Petach Tikva, I was obviously appalled. Racism is alive and well in Israel, unfortunately, but I couldn't imagine it had gotten to the extent of actually denying children places in schools. In order to fulfill the requirements of the conversion authority, the children must be enrolled in religious schools.

3 semi private schools in Petach Tikva- Lamerhav, Da'at Mevinim and Darkei Noam- have now said that they will take 50 children into the first grade and the rest they will accept into "Kittot Klita"- separate remedial classes. Gidon Saar, the education minister, does not accept this solution because he doesn't want the children "ghettoized" into their own classes. Shimon Peres has called for demonstrations against the school (you can see his call not once, but twice, in this Haaretz article). Again, as I said, when I first heard of this, I, too was horrified. But after reading up on it over Shabbat, I've come to the conclusion that this is an attempt to attack and demonize these religious private schools.

Over the last few weeks, efforts to find a compromise were made by various representatives of the municipality. One suggestion, proposed by Moti Zaft, head of the religious schools department, was to form special classes for the Ethiopian children to help them close the pedagogic gaps between them and the rest of the students, the main reason cited by the private schools for their unwillingness to accept the immigrant pupils.
Another suggestion, which was accepted by the city's non-official recognized religious schools, was to split up all the children equally among all the schools.
So far the Ministry of Education has been adamantly against the idea of forming special classes for the Ethiopian students.Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar said he unequivocally demanded that the students be put in regular classes and that segregated classes where like "small ghettoes."

The schools are offering (or are willing to accept? Different paper have different versions) a sensible solution- how are new immigrant children expected to keep up in regular math, language and Torah classes if they are just entering school? (My husband thought at first that this was an attempt on the part of the schools to keep up their standings on state tests, that these weren't really new immigrant children- but if they're still going through the conversion process, obviously, they are still relatively new).

If the schools were smart or at least a bit media savvy, they would simply accept the kids into regular classes and remove them for remedial work as needed.

Also, it's unclear from any of these articles why they can't be accepted into regular state religious schools in the city. I found it interesting this is the complete opposite from our experience here in Raanana. Here, there was a quota on the number of children from Ranaana that Darchei Noam was allowed to accept, in order to protect the state religious schools, which is logical from a public policy standpoint. The school had to turn away 18 families, at first, because of this quota. We were one of them, until we used our Jerusalem address to circumvent this (they had no problem accepting children from outside of Raanana.) The mayor here is very against private education and does his best to stifle its growth.

In Petach Tikva, the municipality seems to depend on these schools to educate religious children- otherwise, why can't these children just be accepted into the state religious schools system?

There were a number of other articles in Haaretz and Jpost lamenting the spread of private and semi private education, about the weakening of the public system and what it means for the future of Israeli education. As I said before, I fully understand this on a public policy level. However, on an individual level, I was horrified that the mayor was trying to force me to send my daughter to a public school when I wasn't sure that was the best place for her or us. I think school choice is part of being a modern developed Western nation. I think it's foolish to assume every child should go to public school.

I hope a solution is found within the next 72 hours and the school year in Petach Tikva can start peacefully for everyone.


JJ said...

Sorry, I know this is off-topic, but I realized I never answered you re.the Beit Berel pool (I've been bad about responding to comments lately, sorry!) I don't think I've ever heard of it. We usually take the kids to the community center pool in Lev Hapark. At least I think it's Lev Hapark- if you drive past the park, you eventually come to it.

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