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The Education Ministry sent letters yesterday to the principals of three private religious schools in Petah Tikva indicating which students of Ethiopian origin they must accept. Sources close to the case said the ministry will likely wait until the weekend for the students to be registered, before imposing sanctions should the schools fail to comply.

If the schools persist in refusing to admit the students, the sources said, the ministry would begin applying sanctions ranging from cutting government budgetary allocations for the schools to suspending their accreditation.

Meanwhile, parents in the city threatened yesterday to bring the school system to a standstill for the beginning of the academic year next week unless the schools agree to accept the students. A municipal committee of parents gathered at a panel organized by state-religious schools yesterday to protest what they called discrimination against students of Ethiopian origin. The panel was joined by members of the Ethiopian community who have also voiced support for the strike.

The chairman of the parents' committee, Nir Orbach, demanded that the city begin practicing "egalitarian and balanced division of immigrant absorption." If the schools did not take the children, Orbach warned, parents would "shut down the school system in the city."

Private schools in Petah Tikva are heavily subsidized by both the Education Ministry and the municipality. Education Ministry Director General Shimshon Shoshani said last week that the schools refusing to enroll children on a discriminatory basis would be fined and could have their accreditation licenses suspended.

Last week, the Petah Tikva municipality ordered local private schools to enroll about 70 students of Ethiopian origin. Another 30 students were to be enrolled in the public Orthodox school system, where most Ethiopian-Israeli students study.

Administrators at the city's public Orthodox schools said they would not accept the 30 children as planned.

"It's clear to everyone that the response to the enrollment instruction would be negative, but we had to go public with it to allow the Education Ministry to begin the process of imposing fines," a senior city official said.

As a result of the disagreement between the private schools and the city, at least 100 students of Ethiopian extraction still do not know what school they will be attending when the school year begins on September 1.