Ethiopian Students Still Denied Places at Petah Tikva Schools

Municipal officials claim city's private religious schools are refusing to accept the children.

Eleven new immigrants from Ethiopia have yet to be placed in Petah Tikva schools, and some have been waiting as long as three weeks for an assignment.

Municipal officials claim that the city's private religious schools - which sparked a nationwide outcry when they refused to accept Ethiopian students at the start of the school year - are also refusing to accept these new students. However, the schools rejected this charge.

A few hours after Haaretz submitted inquiries to the relevant agencies, the municipality announced that all the children would be sent to a school today, and "we hope they'll be admitted."

However, the problem is unlikely to go away: Later this year the city is expected to get another group of 15 to 30 school-age immigrants from Ethiopia, and it is not clear where they will study.

"We get up in the morning, drink tea and watch television. There's nothing else to do," said Temasgen Mola, 12, who came to Petah Tikva with his parents and older brother two weeks ago from the Mevasseret Zion absorption center. On Wednesday, like many of the other immigrants, he was once again sitting in the municipality's offices, hoping for a school placement.

Arega Gaton was also there, hoping to receive a placement for his 7-year-old daughter. "They keep telling us there's no school for the girl," he said. "We thought everything would be good here - that there would be a school and work. But she sits at home, and I can't go to work because I need to take care of her."

Under an Education Ministry decision that stemmed from an agreement reached before the start of the school year, most of the new immigrants were supposed to be absorbed by the town's three private religious schools. But according to the municipality, all three have evaded this commitment using various pretexts.

"One principal said the last open slot in the class had just been filled, and afterward it turned out that this was inaccurate," a municipal official said. "Another agreed to accept only 4th-grade boys, but there aren't any in this group. The third simply refused to return phone calls."

Only the mayor has the legal power to order the private schools to accept students. But Petah Tikva educators said that Mayor Yitzhak Ohayon has political obligations to certain National Religious Party activists who are also involved in the three schools, and has therefore refused to exercise this power.

The schools, however, deny that they are to blame.

"We've been absorbing [Ethiopian immigrants] for three years now, and will continue to do so," said Hagai Unger, principal of the Darchei No'am school. "We will gladly accept anyone the city sends us."

Another school, Merhav, said it had been asked to accept only one student, and did so.

An official at Da'at Mevinim, the third school, said it has already accepted 20 Ethiopian immigrants this year and will continue to comply with any "reasonable" request. "But so far, we haven't received the financial support the Education Ministry promised us," he charged.