African migrants at makeshift school at Kibbutz Eilot.
African migrants at makeshift school at Kibbutz Eilot. Photo by Limor Edrei
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The Education Ministry and the Eilat municipality have agreed to integrate the children of foreign migrants into city schools, in the wake of harsh criticism from the Supreme Court. The city, with the approval of the ministry, has for four years refused to enroll these children in schools.

On Sunday representatives of the two informed the court that they would agree to a compromise allowing the youngsters to study in regular educational frameworks in the southern city this year.

During the 2011-2012 academic year about 55 children of different ages, who were born in Sudan and Eritrea, were sent to study in a makeshift school in an abandoned youth village on Kibbutz Eilot.

Fifteen school-aged children of asylum-seekers living in Eilat, along with rights organizations, sued the city recently for the right to study in its regular school system. As a result, the Be'er Sheva District Court ruled that the Eilat municipality had to integrate the children in its schools. Two weeks ago, the state and city appealed before the Supreme Court.

Under the binding agreement now reached under the auspices of the court, the various Eilat schools will now open special classes for the students. The idea behind separate classes is to allow the African-born youngsters to close the gaps of knowledge between themselves and their Israeli counterparts.

"The purpose of these 'absorption' classes is to narrow the gaps, with the intention of allowing the students to integrate into the regular classes in the future," stated the agreement. It also said that integration process will take place according to "pedagogic evaluations of the educational levels of each student in the subjects taught." Thus, foreign-born children will be able to study in regular classes in cases where their educational level is appropriate.

The new students will be given a pedagogic evaluation in the first half of the school year to examine their progress and the appropriateness of the special classes' framework; it will be determined, for example, whether they are able to study in the classes of Israeli children of the same age. Some of the so-called absorption classes may have students of different ages.

Kindergarteners and first-graders will, however, be placed in regular classrooms from the start.

The state has made the children's acceptance to the school system conditional on proper registration procedures, including filling out all appropriate forms and providing all required information about the child's age and previous educational history. The families have to be living within the city limits and must give an up-to-date address. (The city had claimed in its Supreme Court appeal that it did not have information on the various children. )

The two sides agreed the children would be placed in the new school frameworks between two weeks to a month after registering.

The original petition on behalf of the children was submitted by the Hotline for Migrant Workers, Tel Aviv University's Refugee Rights Clinic, the Assaf Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers, and the The Clinic for Migrants' Rights at the Academic Center of Law & Business in Ramat Gan.

During a hearing on the case at the Supreme Court last Thursday, Justice Salim Joubran said that "perhaps the notion of separation is what impedes our thinking, when we live in the State of Israel in the 21st century. Thus, we must make every effort to find a solution to the problem."

Justice Yoram Danziger added that he did not "know what would happen if another country would say to a specific ethnic group, not necessarily Jews, that due to certain circumstances they would have to study in a different school system."