Ner Etzion school - Alon Ron - 02092011
Parents and students from the Ner Etzion school marching in Petah Tikva Thursday. Photo by Alon Ron
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Parents and government officials clashed yesterday over whether students from immigrant backgrounds at two Petah Tikva schools should be integrated into other schools.

On the first day of the school year, dozens of parents and children of Ethiopian background marched to demand the immediate closure of the Ner Etzion school, where all but one student is Ethiopian.

Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar recently announced that in an effort to integrate the students, there would be no new first grade classes at the school this year. The entire school would eventually be shut down.

The protesters, who chanted "enough with racism, enough with discrimination, enough with ghettos," tried to block the school's entrance. They want the school to be closed immediately.

The demonstrators then marched to Petah Tikva city hall, passing the Gordon elementary school, whose students are mainly from families from the former Soviet Union.

The Education Ministry refuses to shut the Gordon school down, so the municipality announced that it would scrap its plan not to admit first graders there. It said admission to the first grade would be limited to about 10 students who live in the part of the city directly served by the school. It would not allow registration by students from elsewhere in Petah Tikva.

A group of parents whose children were denied admission to the Gordon school showed up at the building anyway with their children; the children were allowed into the facility through a back gate. They spent the entire school day there and were sent home with letters confirming their enrollment at the school for the year.

"In accordance with the Education Ministry's decision, we are making intensive efforts to have the Ner Etzion school closed," the municipality said.

"We reject with contempt the perverse use of concepts of discrimination and racism. Anyone who has the interests of the children at heart should examine the educational considerations that are motivating us before coming out with inciting and wild statements."

The municipality added that students had been admitted yesterday to the Gordon school in violation of municipal and Education Ministry policy.

The Ethiopian demonstrators heading toward city hall were joined by parents of children at the Gordon school. Two demonstrators, including the head of a local Ethiopian immigrant organization, Daniel Uria, were arrested but later released.

Meanwhile, in Beit Shemesh, the police were out in force at the Orot Neria national religious girls school. Earlier in the week about 15 ultra-Orthodox residents of the area broke into the school and refused to leave until they received assurances from the city's mayor, Moshe Abutbul, that the facility would not be used this year as a national religious girls school.

The group said the mayor had promised that the site would be used for an ultra-Orthodox elementary school instead. The squatters were ultimately evicted by the police after a heated confrontation.

After demonstrations in Beit Shemesh, the mayor came out in support of the school's operation as a girls school. He handed over the keys a matter of hours before the start of the school year.