Hundreds of parents in Tel Aviv are seeking municipal authorization to open a school for secular and religious students in September that would be the first such school in the city.
If the parents get their way, the school will become the first secular-religious school that falls fully under the state jurisdiction rather than being at least partly run by a non-profit group. The Knesset recently approved regulations for religiously mixed education that could pave the way for that to take place.
"More than anything else, it's surprising that this has never happened in Tel Aviv," said Eli Lipshitz, one of the religious parents behind the initiative. "This, after all, is an avant-garde city, and it has served as a model in Israel in so many ways. "
Although there are more than 80 religiously mixed schools in the country, most Israeli schools are segregated by ethnicity - Jewish and Arab - and, among Jewish schools, by religiousness. In addition to secular and religious public schools, there are also independently run schools for the ultra-Orthodox.
"On the most basic level, the segregation maintained in the school system does not exist in Israeli society as a whole," said Lipshitz. "There's no such segregation in the army, in neighborhoods, in higher education, or in Tel Aviv as a whole. It is artificial segregation, and therefore problematic. The moment you say you're religious, then that can be interpreted as meaning you think you're better. Better than what? The secular Israelis. The religious public school system today patronizes the secular school system, and that is distorted - it sends the wrong educational and moral message. "
Lipshitz and the other parents behind the planned school have drawn up a mission statement for the school, which they plan to present to the municipality as part of their effort to secure permission to open it. The parents began consulting with municipal officials on the matter more than a year ago.
"The school will encourage students to express their ways of life in a shared space, and no preference will be displayed toward one lifestyle or another," the parents wrote in the mission statement. "Boys and girls will wear a uniform to be decided by the school administration, without the religious coercion of skullcaps, tzitzit or skirts."
Shelly Alshich-Handel, one of the parents behind the mixed school, said schools shouldn't be divided into those for religious students and those for nonreligious ones.
"We think this initiative meets a real need in Tel Aviv," said Alshich-Handel, who grew up in a nonreligious home and is married to a religious man. "This will be a school that reflects the different sides of Tel Aviv's population."
"These are people who want to live in a big city together, to feel part of it, and who think that segregation in schools is unnecessary," she said.
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