The High Court of Justice yesterday instructed the Beit Yaakov school in the ultra-Orthodox town of Immanuel to figure out a way to run classes for both Ashkenazi and Sephardi girls without racial segregation. This means the students would continue to be segregated, but not based on racist or ethnic criteria, representatives of the Immanuel ultra-Orthodox community said.

The court convened to consider sanctioning dozens of parents for noncompliance with an earlier ruling, which ordered the West Bank settlement's school to cease running separate classes for Ashkenazi and Sephardi girls.

Rather than comply with the court's earlier ruling, Ashkenazi parents set up a separate, privately-run educational program next to the school. The school and the state-funded Hinuch Atzma'i ("Independent Education") school system, which runs it, are supposed to find a compromise within a week that would enable both Ashkenazi and Sephardi girls to study together. The girls will be divided on the basis of religious criteria rather than skin color.

The petitioners - Yoav Lalum of the Noar Kahalacha nonprofit organization and Dr. Aviad Hacohen, dean of the Sha'arei Mishpat law school - Education Ministry and court will have to agree on the criteria, Justice Edmond Levy ruled.

Lalum had petitioned against the Education Ministry, the Immanuel local council and Hinuch Atzma'i.

"The starting point for any arrangement is upholding this court's verdict. We have no intention of deviating from that," the High Court panel headed by Levy said yesterday. The court had ordered the school in August to "remove every sign and effect of the rampant discrimination."

The three-hour court session was attended by the petitioners, Education Ministry officials, members of the Immanuel local council and Hinuch Atzma'i, as well as 130 parents and teachers at the school.

The parents' attorney Motti Glick told the court his clients would not agree to merge the mostly Ashkenazi "Hasidic" track with the mostly Sephardi "general" track, because they had been so ordered by their rabbis. He said the girls were separated two and a half years ago due to the Sephardi girls' inadequate religious standard.

Glick said the segregation was on a merely religious basis, rather than a racist one. "I can wager that all the girls of the ["Hasidic"] track don't have televisions at home and all the ["general"] track girls do," he said.

"That's a sign of racism, when you wager on something you don't know," Justice Hanan Melcer pointed out.

Justice Levy said he read in ultra-Orthodox newspapers "reports that make the word 'incitement' pale by comparison."

One of the parents, Yitzhak Weinberg, a father of two students in the school, told the court that due to new families moving into the town, students from "newly religious" families who were not religious enough were admitted to the school. He said his daughter related after coming home from school one day that "when she closed the top button of her shirt she was shouted at, calling her 'dosit' [a derogatory term for religious]."

"We maintain a separatist way of life, that's the ultra-Orthodox way," Weinberg said, adding that the ethnic issue is of no concern to him, and that he and the other parents "only want religious and educational segregation."