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A junior-high "scientific leadership" class opened in a Herzliya junior high school this year for the price of NIS 6,000 a year. The school conditions admission to this class on personal interviews to ensure each student's commitment, but the Education Ministry says such selections are prohibited and that the new class has not been approved.

Parents of students at the Yad Giora school say the main criterion to enter the "scientific leadership" class, in addition to good grades, is the parents' ability to afford it. "Don't you want a doctor [for a son]?" school officials told a parent who complained about the high price this week.

The school also operates regular classes in which students study 35 hours a week and a "future" class, whose students receive 6-8 additional study hours per week.

"They're the bright ones and we're the stupid ones," said Na'ama, an eighth grade student in the school when asked about the "scientific leadership" class.

Many other students gave similar answers. "Those children study more hours and interesting subjects. We also want to learn about robots," said one student.

"You have to pay a lot of money to get into those classes. Not everyone can afford it," added another.

An Education Ministry official said the new class is "an extreme example of private education penetrating into the public system. Parents must not be allowed to buy study hours. It's a sure recipe for widening social and educational gaps."

"Charging NIS 6,000 means that only wealthy people can afford it. This is not much different from discriminating against children of Ethiopian origin in Petah Tikva," another official said. "There the reason for rejection was the children's educational standard or their religion. Here it's on an economic basis. This should not happen in the public education system, which is supposed to maintain equal opportunity."

Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar and ministry director general Shimshon Shoshani, who launched a media campaign in the Petah Tikva case, refused to be interviewed on the special class in Herzliya.

An Education Ministry official said on Wednesday that the ministry has not approved the new class. But a letter Haaretz has obtained confirms that the ministry's former Tel Aviv District director, Orly Fruman, approved opening the class in Herzliya. Fruman recently left the ministry to become director general of the Culture and Sports Ministry.

The Yad Giora school has 145 students in five seventh grade classes - two regular classes, two "future" classes, one "scientific leadership" class and one special education class. Regular and "future" classes consist of 40 students each, and the "scientific leadership" class has 25 students.

The school's Internet site lists the new class' advantages: "The students study 10 hours more than the regular school program and receive physics, robotics and computer lessons on the basis of a special program developed by the Weizmann Institute of Science. One day a week is dedicated to leadership issues in a program based on the Defense Ministry's Talpiot project," the site says. Mathematics is taught in "a special program developed for the junior-high classes by the Technion."

In the ninth grade the students will transfer to a nearby practical engineers' high school. Entry conditions for the new class are unclear. Education Ministry directives prohibit any tests or selection on the basis of tests, or entry interviews for junior-high students.

However, Herzliya municipal officials say students must pass "personal interviews" to assess their commitment to the required investment in science and technology, and their desire to apply themselves and study more hours. Some parents said admission did involve tests.