Students at Prestigious but Crumbling J'lem School to Boycott First Day of Class

For the first time since the school moved to its current premises 17 years ago, students plan to boycott school's opening day next week and demonstrate in front of Mayor Nir Barkat's office instead.

One day during the summer of 2009, a local Jerusalem radio station broadcast a report on the city's Experimental High School. The school, which has both elementary and high school divisions, is considered one of the most prestigious in the capital, a pioneer in modern education and one of the last bastions of secular education in Jerusalem.

But the report didn't touch on any of those characteristics of the school. Instead, it focused on the serious neglect of the school's physical plant: crumbling walls, a yard full of glass from broken bottles, a shortage of classrooms, filthy bathrooms, a serious lack of shelter space, poor heating and more. Following the report, the Jerusalem municipality promised that the school would be renovated "by the coming summer."

Since then, parents say, the situation has only gotten worse. There was one inspection by the city that helped fix only a small number of the problems. Other than that, all they've gotten from the city are promises.

Three years later, the parents, teachers and 900 students at the 41-year-old school have had enough. For the first time since the school moved to its current premises 17 years ago, they plan to boycott school's opening day next week and demonstrate in front of Mayor Nir Barkat's office instead. Their demands: Either provide money to renovate its current quarters, or move the school somewhere else.

"The money he gave us in 2009 was a type of Band-Aid," says Dan Zomer, a former chairman of the high school parents committee. "Without a firm decision about what to do, it wasn't worth anything. It's a policy of doing the minimum necessary and not making a decision. I guess not making a decision is also a type of decision."

No grades, tests or report cards

The school was founded in 1971, and got its name for educational methods that at the time were considered revolutionary.

"There are no grades, no tests and no report cards," says Zomer. "The evaluations are qualitative, not quantitative. They put a lot of emphasis on social and creative things. It's simply a school that the kids are happy to come to each morning."

The school is one of the last remaining ones in the downtown area, located on Hillel Street right near Kikar Hahatulot, where young people gather, often drunk, and which is the scene of periodic violence. (Last week's attempted lynch of an Arab youth by a mob of Jewish teenagers took place there. ) On the other side of the school is Independence Park, which also sees its share of nighttime violence.

"Our school is the backyard of Kikar Hahatulot, so every morning it's bottles and bongs," says Gilbert Glantz, chairman of the elementary school parents committee. "Part of our daily routine is sweeping up all this junk from the schoolyard."

"We're an island of sanity here," says Zomer. "Like a nature reserve. In the school there are almost no incidents of violence, and no one feels scared or threatened. That's how kids in school are supposed to feel."

But Glantz says the physical condition of the building imposes a daily war of attrition on its inhabitants.

"The building has no shelter, and there are sewage problems all the time because a municipal sewer pipe runs through the schoolyard," he says. "There aren't enough bathrooms - in the high school, for example, the boys and girls share bathrooms and there's filth everywhere. Last year, we, the parents, spent NIS 60,000 on cleaners to work in addition to the municipality cleaning staff because the city refused to supplement them."

If all this weren't enough, right across from the school is the construction site for the Museum of Tolerance, which disperses clouds of dust over the school's playground.

"The kids can't go out when the trucks are coming in or out," says Glantz.

Ten months ago the parents met with Deputy Mayor Koby Kahlon, who agreed to establish a committee to coordinate work schedules with the museum's contractor. An on-site meeting was scheduled for January 31, but the city representatives never showed up.

"Since then we haven't heard from them on the matter," says Glantz.

Three weeks ago, parent representatives met with Barkat, who, they say, promised an answer regarding the school's location and budget within two weeks. They are still waiting.

The Jerusalem municipality said: "Mayor Nir Barkat is overseeing a plan, together with the parents and the school administration, to move the school to a new location that will constitute a significant upgrade, providing solutions to the needs of the school and enabling its development.

"At the same time, a budget of NIS 200,000 was allocated for renovations, which the principal and staff decided to use to repair the sports field. The work will be starting shortly.

"In addition, next year the school will be expanded to additional existing space, and additional budgets for renovations and upgrades will be allocated."