Arab parents in a local council outside Haifa have been keeping 1,500 kids home from high school for the past two weeks, in protest against the council’s cancellation of bus service.
The Ma’aleh Iron council has cited a budget deficit as a reason for cutting the service, in addition to what it sees as a failure of the Education Ministry to assist in covering the shortfall.
The council covers the villages of Musmus, Zelpa, Mushreifeh, Salem and Biyada, which has two elementary schools, a middle school and two high schools. The council has paid for bus service to these schools since its establishment in 1996. But after falling into debt, the Interior Ministry put an accountant on the council’s case and since the start of the current school year, bus service to Salem and Mushreifeh has been cut.
The ministry refuses to budget the transportation, saying the pupils do not meet the criterion of living at least three kilometers away from the schools.
“We have checked into the issue and the council’s schools don’t meet the criterion the ministry has set,” Sa’ar Harel, head of the ministry’s Haifa district said. “We found no reason to deviate from these criteria. If we change the formula especially for this council’s behalf, then we will have to change it for everyone.”
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The ministry said a representative would visit the area in the next few days to check the residents’ claims with regard to the distances.
Local Parents’ Association head Ahmad Jabareen said the refusal to provide bus service is due to the authorities’ ignorance about the situation on the ground.
“It’s true we don’t meet the criterion, but you have to consider the area’s geography. It’s a hilly, rocky region. You can’t send the kids walking in such an area. Soon it will be winter and walking will become even more dangerous. This isn’t about one community with territorial contiguity and infrastructure that would allow an easy walk to school.”
Jabareen said that Highway 65 cuts between the eastern side of Musmus and the high school in Mushreifeh. “We cannot have our kids forced to cross this highway every day to get to school. Other children arrive at the Umm el-Fahm junction and they also have to cross Highway 65 to get to school. We aren’t ready for that. We are asking the education and interior ministries to provide a solution.”
The Education Ministry said in response that it pays for school transportation only when the school meets the right criterion for distance from the pupils’ homes. “In these communities the schools are relatively close to their homes and the ministry has never played a role in paying for such transportation. At the same time, the central transportation committee is examining the issue and intends to send a professional team to the communities to study the issue in depth.”