Ethiopian Students Finally Enrolled in Petah Tikva Schools

Schools that had refused to accept Ethiopians back down after Education Min. threatens to cut funding.

All children of Ethiopian origin were finally placed in various Petah Tikva schools as of Thursday, two days after the beginning of the school year.

Some 100 children had been left out of school when the school year opened on Tuesday due to the religious schools' refusal to enroll them. But all the children were placed over the last three days, after the Education Ministry threatened to cut off the schools' funding.

At about noon, students from Petah Tikva's Amishav neighborhood came home.

"It was fun to go to school at last," said Tadros Ordena, who began first grade Thursday.

"Thank God everything's all right now," said Aschalo Sama's mother, Pirmos. "We got to school, they registered us and I hope there will be no more problems."

City officials said they will check all the schools next week to make sure every child of Ethiopian descent has found a place in a classroom.

However, the crisis may flare again in December, when some 60 additional immigrant children are due to arrive in Petah Tikva.

Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar and Petah Tikva Mayor Yitzhak Ohayon agreed that this group would all be enrolled in various private schools, including both the religious Zionist ones that objected to enrolling the current batch and ultra-Orthodox schools.

The ministry is also considering sending some children from the new group to schools outside Petah Tikva, such as the elementary school in nearby Moshav Nehalim. Ministry regulations stipulate that elementary school students must be enrolled in schools near their homes. But ministry and municipality officials said it might not be a good idea to send children of Ethiopian origin to schools that do not want them.

It is also not clear whether the various private schools will honor their agreement with Sa'ar to take in all of the new group.

"They've already started saying they won't take in more students," one official said.

Most of the Ethiopian students have been enrolled in the city's religious state schools, which compete with the private religious schools.

Municipality officials blasted the Education Ministry Thursday for criticizing a "lack of order" in their data on students of Ethiopian origin, which led to the "discovery," on the first day of school, of 36 children for whom schools had not been found.

"It's not that 36 students were suddenly born," said the head of the city's elementary education department, Sigalit Hillel-Tchernichovsky. "They were all part of the 100 students we reported to the ministry in mid-August. We regret that the Education Ministry placed the responsibility solely on the local government."

The crisis erupted when three private religious schools refused to admit some 50 new students of Ethiopian origin. Last year, they agreed to enroll 25 students of Ethiopian origin. Their refusal prompted the religious state schools to follow their lead and announce that they, too, would not admit any students of Ethiopian origin.