Israeli Town Split on Prospect of Secular, Religious Schools Sharing a Building

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Netanya Mayor Miriam Feirberg-Ikar, who police say will be questioned under warning that she may face criminal charges.
Netanya Mayor Miriam Feirberg. Secular parents at a city school are disputing the prospect of their kids sharing the building with religious students.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

The prospect that Netanya may open a state religious school next year within a nonreligious school has prompted sharp opposition among the city’s secular parents.

At the Haim Hefer Elementary School, parents say the added use of the school’s infrastructure - the religious classes would be held on the second floor - will shelve plans to add a library and science classroom.

And they object to the installation of a barrier on school grounds, which the religious parents say would be required as a legal and administrative matter.

The religious parents say there’s no reason to worry. And the city says it hasn’t yet decided whether the religious school will open.

Liat Ya’akov, chairwoman of the parents committee at Haim Hefer, told Haaretz that the matter of a state religious school in the neighborhood had come up last year and only 17 children were eligible for enrollment, too few to open a separate school.

“Some of the children went to our school, which is secular, and they fit in,” she said.

Ya’akov said that as it is, the school does not have a library, a science classroom and a gym because of the need for classroom space.

According to Ya’akov, the parents were initially promised that the second school would be at Haim Hefer for a year. But she says the parents have now found out that the two schools are to share the same building for two or three years.

“We have no objection to a religious school in the neighborhood, but it should not be at the expense of our children,” Ya’akov said. “It just creates a rift between religious and secular residents that we didn’t have before.”

The parents have demonstrated at the school and say they plan to continue the fight.

Attorney Nissan Sharifi, who represents the religious parents, told Haaretz that there’s “no reason why the two schools should not share the same building, with a physical separation.

“The separation is needed because these are two different legal entities. And if, perish the thought, a child falls and hurts himself in the yard [or the building], it is important to know who is responsible administratively and safety-wise, according to which part of the yard [or the building] the child was injured in.”

Sharifi said the separation could be as minimal as a “thin cord or a symbolic fence.”

The municipality says, however, that no barriers would be erected on the grounds.

MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) on Thursday weighed in on the dispute.

In a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is acting education minister; Deputy Education Minister Avi Wartzman and Netanya Mayor Miriam Feirberg, Zandberg wrote that “if there is a real need for a religious school, this need should be met, but not at the expense of other pupils and by coercion.”

And Netanya City Hall said in a statement that the “parents are putting the cart before the horse and are ostensibly acting out of motives that have no place in our heterogeneous society.”

Because registration is still underway, the city doesn’t know whether enough students will enroll and require a national-religious class. A meeting with the parents is set for February 4, by which time the city will know how many religious kids will enroll, the city said.

The municipality said that if the numbers are sufficient and no alternative could be found, the state religious school would operate at Haim Hefer until a new school was built.

And the municipality disputed Ya’akov’s claim that Haim Hefer was short of classroom space.

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