Israel Demands Tel Aviv Elementary Schools Separate Boys and Girls at Sports Event

28 elementary school principals in the city have announced a boycott of the upcoming event. Education Ministry says separation derives from the need to take 'body images of boys and girls at this age' into consideration

FILE PHOTO: Elementary school children in Israel.
Yaron Kaminski

In response to the Education Ministry’s decision to hold a gender-separate athletic event for fifth- and sixth-graders in Tel Aviv, 28 elementary school principals in the city have announced a boycott of the upcoming event.

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The ministry said the gender separation derived from the need to take religious schools into consideration and because of “the body images of boys and girls at this age.”

Tel Aviv elementary school principals recently received an invitation to take part in an event in which kids will play games from the “old days” like hopscotch, dodgeball and jump rope. The invitation, which came from the national supervisor of physical education in the Education Ministry, Guy Dagan, states that the games will be held separately for boys and girls.

The story was first published on the website OnLife.

The invitation created an unusual response: 28 elementary school principals – about half the city’s total – sent a letter of protest to Dagan. “It is our responsibility and our role to prove to boys and girls in our schools that there should be no gender differences in education, learning, development, creativity and interpersonal and social skills,” they said.

The principals also noted that gender separation had “nothing to do with the skills required” for games of the type to be played in the event,

The principals proposed separate games for groups desiring to do so, “in light of their worldview and values.”

Dagan responded that while he “agreed in principle with the spirit” of the principals’ statement, the decision that boys and girls would play the games separately came because the event was also intended for state religious schools, in which classes are separated by gender, and the event had to allow for this.

Dagan also cited “body image of boys and girls at this age” as a reason for holding the games separately, saying that at this point there was not enough time to make changes. He said that next year a panel of experts would be established to “consider all aspects.”

One of the principals who signed the letter said: “This is coercion in every sense. The parents in my school will not agree to this.

“It’s too bad that in the Education Ministry they prefer to curry favor with the religious public,” she added.

Tel Aviv Deputy Mayor Assaf Zamir, who holds the municipality’s education portfolio, said that in Tel Aviv, a city that considers equality of paramount importance, the Education Ministry’s decision could not be accepted.

The Education Ministry refused to say whether the chairman of the Pedagogic Secretariat, Dr. Moshe Weinstock, had approved the decision to hold the gender-separate event or whether it was based on Dagan’s initiative.