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The system at Herzliya's Yad Giora junior high school - where, as Or Kashti reported in Friday's Haaretz, students study in three types of classes - is an extreme and worrisome manifestation of a phenomenon that is steadily growing worse.

Children whose parents can afford NIS 6,000 a year to pay, among other things, for extra teaching hours study in "upgraded" classes with better conditions. But those who cannot afford this must make do with regular public education: more crowded classes, fewer hours, fewer technological learning aids and fewer chances to get ahead in the sciences.

The Herzliya school has crossed a red line. According to the public education law, schools are not permitted to divide students into different types of classes based on vague standards such as "good grades" or "commitment to striving in the sciences."

Clearly, they are also prohibited from charging special fees for special conditions and then defining these as "high-achiever" classes, like business class on an airplane or a suite in a luxury hotel.

The dubious explanations the Herzliya municipality gave for this illegal discrimination, the fact that the Education Ministry claims the school has been operating without a permit even though ministry officials actually approved the establishment of the special classes, and the thunderous silence of the education minister and his director general all show that the division of the Yad Giora school into two sections, one for the rich and one for the poor, is a symptom of a serious illness that has spread throughout the education system.

The education system is losing the last vestiges of its public character and has become remiss in its public duty to offer equal education to every child, regardless of socioeconomic background.

Private and semi-private schools are a common and controversial phenomenon. But a private track in a public school is a real kick in the teeth for the concept of state-run education.

Such a track gives all children, both rich and poor, a distorted lesson in the relationship between scholastic achievement and money.

The education minister and the mayor of Herzliya must put a stop to it.