Education Ministry Comes Out Against Mixing Refugee and Israeli Kids in Schools

The opinion, issued following an appeal by asylum seekers against the Tel Aviv Municipality, claims integration will 'harm the cultural and family roots of the students'

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A child holds up a sign reading 'education for all' at a protest against school segregation in south Tel Aviv
A child holds up a sign reading 'education for all' at a protest against school segregation in south Tel AvivCredit: Hadas Parush

The Education Ministry opposes integrating the children of asylum seekers with Israeli children in elementary schools and kindergartens, according to an opinion issued by the ministry’s top policy consultant and obtained by Haaretz.

According to the opinion, “Such integration may harm the cultural and family roots of the students and create a unification of cultures in a manner that would erase and blur the identity and the community from which they come.”

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The opinion, written by Inbar Bobrovsky and Dr. Odette Sela from the ministry’s Chief Scientist’s Office, was issued in response to an appeal by asylum seekers against the Tel Aviv Municipality and Education Ministry to stop the policy of separating asylum seekers’ children from Israeli children in the city’s school system.

Such integration, the opinion states, poses “a complex question that relates to sensitive cultural issues of stability and confidence of young children.” Moreover, the authors state, integrating the children in schools throughout the city may increase gaps between the children. “The granting of equal opportunity that is based solely on integrating different populations in the same schools does not succeed,” the paper states.

In contrast, Dr. Yariv Feniger, who studies educational policy and inequality at Ben-Gurion University, says the Education Ministry has no authority to deal with the question of placing the children in schools. The claim that the parents will have difficulties if the children are placed in distant schools may be correct in some cases, Feniger says, but it is not based on research and should be up to the parents only.

“Just as there are children in north Tel Aviv who study at the Nature School in the southern part of the city, it is up to the parents. Why should the case for dark-skinned children be different?” Feniger told Haaretz. “It’s the ministry’s and the city’s right not to fund busing to distant schools, but the arguments in the opinion paper are vague. And the opposite claim can also be made.”

The Education Ministry also stated that it opposes an arrangement between the appellants and the municipality by which approximately 90 children of the appellants, in grades one to three, can register outside their registration zones. It was decided that this will depend on busing the children to school from their homes in south Tel Aviv. The Education Ministry opposes funding the buses however. On Sunday a hearing between the municipality and Education Ministry will be held in the Tel Aviv District Court on this matter.

According to Bobrovsky and Sela, the arrangement to be discussed in court will harm the children of the asylum seekers, especially those who need additional tutoring. Those children would not be able to stay after school since they rely on school buses to get them home at the end of the regular school day.

The ministry also says that enrolling the children in distant schools will make it hard for their parents to become involved in the school community, and that children will also have trouble connecting with classmates after school because they will be bused home.

The ministry maintains that such integration could mean that the asylum seekers’ children will not feel “a sense of belonging to the community from which they come because they will be split up throughout the city, and will not know the children they live with in their community.”

Bobrovsky and Sela also point to difficulties they say the schools will have in integrating the children of the appellants: “Schools will need many extra private tutoring hours for these students. In addition, they will need to train teachers to deal with heterogeneity in the classroom and with the complex issues it brings up, from scholastic gaps to complex social-emotional issues.”

Lawyers Haran Reichman and Tal Hassin of Haifa University’s Law and Educational Policy Clinic and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which submitted the appeal together with refugee and asylum seekers' aid group Assaf and the Levinsky Library, said “It is difficult to believe that the Education Ministry issued such a detached document that ignores many studies proving the importance of integration in general and with regard to asylum seekers in particular."

According to Reichamn and Hassin, "The authors are right about one thing: Integration alone is not enough. Teachers must be educated, proper programs developed and resources allocated to their successful integration. The obligation to do so is that of the Education Ministry and it should have already done so.”

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