In Arab Village Dabburiya, the Classroom Is the Hallway to the Toilet

The run-down building, which dates from around 1935, has no air conditioning units to cool teachers and students on hot September days.

Flanking one end of the junior high schoolyard in the Arab village of Dabburiya, on the slopes of Mount Tabor, stands an old stone building that would give historic preservationists chills. Collectors would pay a fortune for the window trim alone.

But this run-down building, which dates from around 1935, houses ninth-grade classes and makes up a major portion of the school's facilities. Its students care not for the window trim; they'd rather have a little breeze.

school - Yaron Kaminsky - September 21 2011
Yaron Kaminsky

The school building has no air conditioners, only fans donated Monday by one of the students' parents, which were working on overdrive yesterday to move around the warm air. "That's still good," said one teacher, "because we went through a few days when the electricity failed, and that's not mentioning entire days when we didn't have water."

The ninth-graders are the lucky ones, compared to their seventh-grade schoolmates. Since the beginning of the school year, when 80 students entered seventh grade, the school has been unable to provide them with regular classrooms. At first, they studied in the shade of pine trees, until an improvised classroom was set up in a hallway and another took over what had previously been the school library.

Yesterday, the students' parents had had enough, and after an hour of class the children were sent home. As of next week, they intend to boycott class altogether. The parents' committee said the school had promised to bring in prefabricated classroom trailers, but they haven't arrived, and it's not clear why they weren't installed over the summer.

The Education Ministry said responsibility for maintaining educational facilities lies with the local authority, which owns the school buildings. The ministry said it provided two mobile classrooms to the junior high, as well as special funding to upgrade the school's electrical system. The Dabburiya education department said the two classroom trailers would be arriving today and would be allocated to the seventh grade.

The corridor used for one class doesn't have a blackboard or a single window; it has no air conditioner, and no fans. The only consolation is an old, beautiful mural depicting three female villagers in the midst of a harvest. Beneath the mural are two restroom stalls. Students in this classroom don't have to ask permission to go to the restroom. They just walk around the teacher's desk and enter a stall.

And yet one teacher expressed jealousy for students from that class, explaining that all 40 teachers at the school must share one toilet stall. "Sometimes," she said, "by the time the restrooms are free, I already have to go to class to start teaching. I don't know whether to go to the bathroom or to class."

In the library classroom, the situation is grim. There are windows, but no window panes, and the stench from a drainage pit outside wafts into the room. There are no air conditioners, just one lone fan plugged into the only working electrical outlet in the room.

One seventh-grade teacher yesterday took advantage of the student walk-out to use her classroom for a private gym class for four girls at the school. The junior high has to share a gym with a neighboring high school, whose students were using the gym for their own class, so the junior high gym teacher took over the library for a lecture on physical education.

For Rafi Masalha, a lawyer whose daughter Shaden attends seventh grade at the school, the state of the facilities is infuriating. Over the summer, Shaden attended a science camp in Haifa at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology. She is a gifted student in science, and the family's living room is full of trophies she's won from science competitions at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the Weizmann Institute of Science and regional science events.

"After the excellent experience that [Shaden] had this summer at the Technion, does she have to experience this wretched reality?" her father asked. "Once," he said, "there was a good school system and proper conditions here."

Few of Dabburiya's students go on to pursue studies at the university level, he said, adding, "Instead of doctors and lawyers, the young people today become truck drivers."