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 city of Eilat on Sunday filed an appeal with the Supreme Court, asking it to overturn a Be'er Sheva District Court decision from two weeks ago ordering Eilat to admit the children of African asylum-seekers into the city's school system.

On August 9 Judge Rachel Barkai ruled in favor of 15 school-aged children of asylum-seekers living in Eilat who sued the city for the right to study in its regular school system.

For the past four years Eilat has refused to enroll the children of migrants in its schools. Instead it has sent them, with the approval of the Education Ministry, to a separate facility outside the city.

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

The petition, which 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, claimed that these children were not receiving even a basic education, much less learning the Education Ministry's national curriculum. "The school building does not meet even elementary standards," the petition stated, adding, "The children study in 'multi-age' classrooms with children aged 13-17, and they are not permitted to take the bagrut matriculation exams."

"The ruling ostensibly sets a new legal norm: "the right to integration in education," the city's appeal states. It goes on to argue that children who are in Israel unlawfully "do not have a known and acknowledged right to inclusion in the regular education system and to integration in the schools' regular classrooms."

In its appeal the Eilat municipality requested a stay of execution of the judgment, arguing that otherwise "irreversible damage" would be caused to both the Education Ministry "and, to a certain extent, to the respondents themselves." The school year begins on September 1.

The appeal was approved by the ministry, which according to Eilat officials is drafting its own appeal to Barkai's ruling. In addition to opposing the enrollment of the students in its educational institutions, the city argues that it lacks the practical means to carry out the district court's decision. "The municipality has no data concerning the number of children of compulsory-education age who must be enrolled, ... their ages and their level of studies," the appellants argue, adding that "admitting the children of illegal border-crossers ... requires locating and hiring a large additional number of employees in all areas of instruction, ... changing and adapting the curriculum ... [and would] cause much distress and frustration for everyone, teachers and students alike."

Among other arguments, the city of Eilat claims in its appeal that the Education Ministry determined that the needs of the migrant children are not served by local school systems, and that therefore Barkai's ruling was wrong and would, if carried out, hurt the very children it was supposed to help. The city also rejected claims in the original petition according to which the children in the Kibbutz Eilot facility were taught by uncertified teachers, stating that the children were taught "in accordance with a curriculum that was created and modified especially for them ... by teachers experienced with disadvantaged populations."