Israel Cracking Down on Admissions Screening at ultra-Orthodox Girls Schools

New guidelines include an official directive requiring each school to allocate five percent of its places to girls appealing their rejection; document stipulates that admissions exams will not list the student's name.

The Education Ministry is expected to soon issue new admissions guidelines for ultra-Orthodox girls secondary schools aimed at preventing schools from unduly rejecting students.

The new document replaces six-year-old guidelines and includes an official directive requiring each school to allocate five percent of its places to girls appealing their rejection.

ultra-Orthodox girls high school
Tomer Appelbaum

The guidelines further stipulate that admissions exams will not list the student's name and require the school to present the form to the Education Ministry at any time, along with a summary of the admissions interview, which is to be documented.

The guidelines instruct the schools to send parents detailed written explanations if their child is not accepted. The ministry also set up a three-tiered appeal processes that progresses from the school, to the local government and finally to the ministry, within fixed time periods.

A State Comptroller's report released last May sharply criticized the practice of granting priority to sisters of students already at the schools, a common occurrence. Among other things, the comptroller expressed "concern that in a reality where granting priority to sisters of students is the main, and sometimes only, criteria," the other criteria "lose their meaning and become irrelevant to the admissions process. Granting priority to sisters in effect entrenches the criteria used in the past to evaluate potential students, including such unacceptable ones that made it possible to prevent some of them from registering for certain schools."

The State Comptroller determined that "the Education Ministry must reevaluate the use of these criteria in the post-elementary schools and present the issue to the education minister and the ministry director general to make a decision."

However, the ministry's new guidelines allow the legacy system. One paragraph states that "the educational institution, the owner or the network may take into account the fact that sisters of a potential student are studying there."

"The institution must follow clear and transparent criteria," the guidelines also state. "The admissions process should be open to the ministry and its representatives and an inspector shall be permitted to sit in on any part of the process as an observer."

The school's regulations, the ministry ruled, will be forwarded each year to the ministry to be approved again by the inspector and admission shall not be contingent on "a religious figure whose authority covers the lifestyle of the student and his or her parents" or on the ethnic affiliation of the student which is "unacceptable, as is setting an admissions quota for a given ethnic group at an educational institution."

The guidelines were recently submitted to the High Court of Justice, following an appeal by Yoav Laloum's Noar Kehalakha movement against apparent discrimination in the admission of Sephardic girls to the schools.

On Sunday, the first hearing of the case took place before a High Court of Justice panel of judges headed by Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch. The next hearing on the case is scheduled for July 1, when the placement of students in the different authorities will be presented.

The Ministry of Education declined to comment on the matter of guidelines for the admission of students' sisters.