State Ends Ends Selection Policy at Tel Aviv Elementary School

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opens the school year on Sept. 1, 2015.Credit: Amos Ben Gershom

An exclusive Tel Aviv public elementary school will no longer be allowed to use any kind of selection process to assess prospective students, the Ministry of Education announced yesterday.

The ministry thus rejected the request of the Tel Aviv municipality and the School for Nature, Environment and Society to continue selecting students as it has done in one way or another since its founding 30 years ago.

Instead, the educational institution, known as the School for Nature, will hold a lottery for prospective new students, with 30 percent of its places reserved for children from weaker socioeconomic backgrounds.

The ministry’s decision is expected to impact other special schools in Tel Aviv, such as the School for the Arts and schools elsewhere in the country with selective admission policies, which contradict the Education Ministry’s rules.

The Education Ministry rules officially prohibit any kind of selection process at the elementary school level. The two unique schools in Tel Aviv overcame the official ban by repeatedly asking for delays in enforcing it, sometimes with the backing of the local authorities and even senior ministry officials.

Due to criticism over the years, testing has been relaxed and has become “workshops” in which the children are “observed” to decide whether they suit the school.

However, about six weeks ago the Tel Aviv District Court accepted a petition against the School for Nature’s selection process, determining that it contravenes the ministry’s rules. The petition was filed by the parents of two first-graders who were rejected during the selection process. Judge Meir Yifrah noted in the ruling that the Tel Aviv municipality had “misrepresented the requirement to take part in an observation” to be accepted at the school. The judge noted that permission to continue conducting such observations as part of a selection process was to have applied only to the last school year and it was to have been discontinued this year.

The parents were represented by the head of the University of Haifa Clinic for Law and Education Policy, Haran Reichman.

Following the ruling, the School for Nature and the municipality still tried to maintain a selection process, changing it somewhat. However, the ministry’s committee for unique schools rejected their request.

In a letter to the district court, the ministry said that the school would hold open house days in which children and parents would learn about its special requirements and that “a lottery will be held among all registrants, which will be divided in a manner that allows for equal opportunity and choice by parents throughout the city.” It is in this framework that 30 percent of the places will be reserved for children from weaker populations, to be determined by parents’ educational background and neighborhood of residence.

“We are pleased that after long years of stuttering, weak approval and ignoring the illegal selection process, the Education Ministry has made a clear decision that a selection process at elementary schools, including unique schools such as the School for Nature, are prohibited and illegal,” said Reichman. “We hope the age of the ‘wink’ is over and the message will be expressed in additional decisions by the Education Ministry and clear and unambiguous enforcement against local authorities and schools that do not internalize the law.”