Ethiopian Students Still Shut Out at Petah Tikva Religious School

About 100 Ethiopian-immigrants are still shut out of religious schools - 10 days before school year.

About 100 Ethiopian-immigrant children in Petah Tikva have still not been accepted at city schools - 10 days before the opening of the school year. Private religious schools in the city, which use a curriculum similar to the state religious system, are refusing to accept the students who were assigned to them by the municipality unless the schools can determine first if they suit the character of the schools. A senior municipality source said the condition is almost certain to result in the schools' refusal to accept the students.

Conditions like those the schools want to impose were already invalidated by the Education Ministry. On Wednesday, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar said, "the ministry will take the most severe measures that it can against schools which refuse to accept students of Ethiopian descent."

Petah Tikva's municipal parents' committee is also threatening to keep their kids from school at the beginning of the new school year if immigrants are not evenly distributed among the city's schools.

In addition to the group of 100 students of Ethiopian descent who have not yet been accepted at assigned schools, there are another 70 or 80 students from Ethiopian-immigrant families who are expected to seek admission to the city's schools and it is not clear where they will study and if they will placed at all.

At the beginning of the week, Petah Tikva's municipality sent school placement notices to the state religious schools and private religious and ultra-Orthodox schools in the city regarding the assignment of Ethiopian students. The letter, from the director of primary school education, Sigalit Hillel-Tchernichovsky, obtained by Haaretz, states that she had spoken to representatives of the three private religious schools in the city and had been told that "the students would be accepted at their institutions only if they meet the criteria for admission of students which appear in the schools' bylaws."

According to a source in the Education Ministry, it is doubtful the private schools, which fund most of their budgets from municipal and state coffers, can legally impose a "suitability test." In addition, the Bass Committee, which was appointed a year and a half ago by the Education Ministry to examine the issue, had already rejected the private schools' argument that the Jewishness of the students is in doubt.

Behind the scenes, private schools are in negotiations with the municipality on the issue, and are attempting to avoid sanctions or a petition to the High Court of Justice. However, knowledgeable sources do not think the chances of a compromise are high, because the schools are expressing a willingness only to accept a small number of the children in separate immigrant classes. The Education Ministry in the past has rejected such classes.

The chairman of the city's forum of state-religious schools, Nir Orbach, said, "the city has taken significant steps," but suggested that a solution is not yet at hand.