Ethiopian Students Still Left Out of Classrooms

An agreement has been reached to enroll another 36 children of Ethiopian origin in Petah Tikva schools.

An agreement was reached Wednesday evening to enroll another 36 children of Ethiopian origin in Petah Tikva's schools, after a second school day in which children and their parents waited for hours in the corridors of the city's education department to find out where their children would be studying.

Of this group of 36, 10 will go to state religious schools, 11 to three private religious Zionist schools, and 15 to ultra-Orthodox schools.

But some of the parents remained skeptical. "I'll believe everything's all right after my son has been in school for a week," said one mother, Mema Ordena.

The confusion over the children's enrollment led to a few inappropriate incidents. The ultra-Orthodox private school Shuvu, for instance, demanded conversion certificates from at least five children of Ethiopian origin.

"I've been living here for 26 years," said one mother, Esther Dasata. "All my children were born in Israel. We're Jews in every sense of the word. Why all of a sudden are they asking me for a conversion certificate?

"Are they afraid our color will rub off on them?" she added. "I don't understand why my son can't go to school, why our poor children have to suffer this way. It makes me sick."

But after the Education Ministry intervened and informed Shuvu that its demand was unacceptable, Dasata was promised that her son, Yonatan, like the other children, would be enrolled there.

At 9 A.M. Wednesday, Pirmos Sama and her son Aschalo, 6, came to the municipality office. They had already been disappointed on Tuesday, when Aschalo sat for hours at the state religious school Morasha and was then sent back to city hall, so this time, he came without his bookbag.

"Why should we bring the bag if we don't have school?" Pirmos said. "They kept telling us, 'wait, you'll have an answer shortly,' but meanwhile, they don't want us at school."

Another mother, Tarpa Zimula, said she tried to get her daughter Sisainesh into school again Wednesday, but they were once again sent away. "The child's been crying for two days," she said. "I don't go to work."

In the city's education department, there was great confusion over the registration of the Ethiopian children. Several city officials said that in all their meetings with Education Ministry officials, which led to Monday evening's premature announcement that a solution had been found, they had been referring only to the new children - those that had arrived in town over the past few weeks. Children who had been living in Petah Tikva for years and gone to kindergarten in the city were not included in calculating the "quotas" that were distributed among the various schools on Monday. Thus 36 new children were suddenly "discovered."

Meanwhile, when the state religious schools were asked to enroll these additional children on the first two days of school, they insisted that under their agreement with Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, they had to take only 34 kids.

Wednesday, the parents committee of the state religious schools traded accusations with the Petah Tikva municipality. "Mayor Itzhak Ohayon is knowingly lying to the public [about the number of students to be enrolled], just like he lied to the education minister and the Knesset Education Committee," a parents committee member said, adding that the schools had agreed to take in six students over and above what their agreements called for.

"The state religious schools have chosen to defend themselves by means of false accusations," the city responded.

At 6 P.M. Wednesday, only a few parents were still waiting at the city's education department. A clerk came out and began handing out the new assignments to schools. But there were no smiles.

Only Thursday will it become clear whether the crisis has indeed been solved - until the next group of immigrants arrives, in another two or three months, with about 60 more new immigrant children.