Court Orders Government to Grant License to Private Havruta School

The private school Havruta in the Hefer Valley will receive a license despite the protests of the Education Ministry, the Tel Aviv Court for Administrative Affairs ruled, rejecting the ministry's appeal.In response, the ministry said it is considering whether to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Havruta, which has been operating for two years, is supported mainly by very high tuition fees, currently at NIS 35,000 per year, and donations. The administration of the school insists half of the students get scholarships that cover 25 to 100 percent of the tuition fees. The school is currently attended by some 80 students in the ninth to 11th grade, and is staffed by 25 teachers. Havruta hopes to expand to 600 students in 7th to 12th grade within a few years.

Yesterday's verdict marks an end to a phase in a two-year-old struggle for recognition by the school, which has become a controversial symbol of the privatization of the public education system. In June 2010, the Education Ministry rejected Havruta's request to be registered as a school, arguing the school might damage the official public schools in nearby communities. The ministry's director-general, Shimshon Shoshani, wrote at the time to the non-profit organization that runs the school that "accepting students from various educational authorities operating junior schools damages the integration principles - and the departure of students could hurt the education structures in official schools." Shoshani also wrote that the curriculum presented by Havruta did not meet the demands of the obligatory core curriculum.

Havruta appealed against the decision, and in November 2010, the appeal committee chaired by retired judge Dan Arbel overruled the ministry, citing the school inspection law. Arbel found that the school met the existing integration demands and accepted students from various areas and communities, and that the ministry failed to present any evidence for damage that might be caused by licensing Havruta.

School co-founder Dror Aloni told Haaretz he was "very glad about the verdict. It forces the ministry to follow the law." He said that the school "advances the cause of equality in Israel because it doesn't vet its students by socioeconomic background. The children sort themselves. This is one of the ladders of social mobility."