The Beit Shemesh municipality has decided to move 150 children from their secular school in the Ramat Beit Shemesh neighborhood to another facility, and turn the school into an ultra-Orthodox one for girls. The city already moved ultra-Orthodox girls to the secular school last year, sparking a controversy.
- Battling Religious Extremism in Beit Shemesh
- Terror in Beit Shemesh
- Man Arrested for Antiquities Theft
The parents of the secular children object to the move, saying the proposed facility is old and requires extensive renovations, as well as being in another part of town, which means they’ll need transportation. The parents’ committee head accused the municipality of “setting the town on fire again.”
Just before the last school year began, the city set up a fence in the campus of the secular school Safot Vetarbuyot in Ramat Beit Shemesh, where 150 girls are enrolled. The city moved ultra-Orthodox girls into one side of the divided campus, declaring it the Haredi school Mishkenot Da’at.
The move enraged the secular parents and the Education Ministry, which asked for an injunction against operating the ultra-Orthodox school on the secular campus. But the Jerusalem District Court ultimately allowed the two schools to share the same premises, mainly due to the shortage of Haredi schools in the city.
In recent weeks the parents said they had reached an agreement with the municipality to move their children to an ultra-Orthodox school with few pupils, located in a new building in a secular area.
But then the city reneged on the agreement and said the secular girls would be moved to Adihu, a school in the old part of town whose infrastructures are faulty, according to the parents.
“During the discussions with municipal officials we submitted a written proposal to relocate the secular school to a Haredi school with few students in a secular area, in a new building that needs no renovation,” said Yaniv Fogel, head of the Beit Shemesh parents committee.
“A week ago we were informed they objected to this plan and want to move the school to an old structure that requires a great deal of money to get it up to a basic standard. It also requires transportation, because it’s difficult to get there. We don’t understand what it’s all about, our proposal was better,” he said.
The city’s education director Yesha’ayahu Ehrenreich said, “The parents suggested an option we said we’d look into. But in any case we can’t stop the process of moving to Adihu at this stage. The children must know when they register that they won’t go to school in Ramat Beit Shemesh but in the old town. If we can’t grant the parents’ request, the children will go to Adihu and there’s nothing we can do.”
“The parents are not a side in the matter, they don’t make the decisions, there’s a process that must be followed. The school must be renovated and we and the Education Ministry have undertaken to deal with it,” he said.
Rabbi Uri Regev, president and CEO of “Hiddush – For Freedom of Religion and Equality, said, “The Beit Shemesh municipality under Mayor Moshe Abutbul is again acting like a serial pyromaniac. Apparently a few months of quiet were too difficult for Abutbul and he decided to set the city on fire again.”
Regev said the city had “acted like a street thug when it set up the fence in the middle of the school. Now it’s rewarding itself for its thuggery. It’s taking advantage of the elections and the shift in the Education Ministry’s leadership to make a move of underhanded opportunism.”
The Education Ministry said, “In keeping with the court’s ruling, the ministry and municipality examined various options for schools in the various schools in Beit Shemesh. The solution for this school year appears to be moving the secular school Safot Vetarbuyot to the Adihu school building and merging the two, as well as renovating the building. The Haredi school Mishkenot Da’at will move into the premises now housing the Safot Vetarbuyot school.”