Some 70 students at the Beit Yaakov girls' school in Immanuel have not been attending class, in the wake of Education Ministry attempts to force the ultra-Orthodox institution to comply with a Supreme Court ruling against segregating Sephardi and Ashkenazi students.
The ministry may prosecute the parents of the absent students under the mandatory education law, officials said.
In August the court ruled that Beit Yaakov and the Independent Education Center have "impinged upon the Sephardi students' right to equality" by segregating them from their Ashkenazi peers. It also said the Education Ministry "deviated from its authority by not using all the means available to prevent discrimination."
The court demanded the school "remove every formal and material sign of the rampant discrimination." The court ruling came in response to a petition by Yoav Lalum of the Noar Kahalacha association, and Dr. Aviad Hacohen, dean of the Sha'arei Mishpat law school.
Two weeks ago, Lalum and Hacohen complained the school and education network were in contempt of court, and were not following the ruling. The Education Ministry's comment on the complaint states that representatives of the school network claimed they did indeed remove every sign of segregation, including different uniforms, different recess times and different school rules.
However, the educators also said they were still entitled to divide the students between "Hassidic" and "General" programs. Lalum says the Hassidic program is attended exclusively by Ashkenazi girls, while the general program is attended by Sephardi girls.
The school has 215 students from first to eighth grade, 35 percent of whom are Sephardi.
Ministry director general Shimshon Shoshani rejected the school's interpretation of the verdict.
"The existence of two separate programs based on different customs is unacceptable ... the two programs must be merged, and the discrimination must stop immediately," he wrote in the ministry's comment, submitted to the Supreme Court on Monday.
The school was given until December 10 to carry out the ministry order. A ministry inspector who came to the school that day found that 70 of the Hassidic students were not there.
"It was therefore impossible to verify that the classes had been merged, and that the students were studying together and wearing identical uniform," the inspector wrote.
The inspector returned to the school on Sunday, and found the Hassidic students still were not there, "but right outside the school I encountered a group of students who would not tell me where they were heading. In a nearby hall owned by the local council, there was a group of students who apparently were studying, with a teacher apparently hired by the parents."
The school denied any connection to the group.
The ministry sent letters to the school and the local council, reminding them that by law, parents must send their children to school. It also said that unless the segregation ends, "The ministry will consider taking steps to enforce integration at the school, including withholding budgets or canceling the school's license."
Senior school officials rejected the argument that the separate programs were discriminatory. "We respected the court's decision and unified the programs. It wasn't simple, and some parents decided their children shouldn't study together," an official said.
Lalum responded the teachers teaching at the council's hall were from the Hassidic program, and said the claim that this was an independent initiative was little more than "pretense."
He called on the ministry "stop talking and begin to act to stop the discrimination."
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