The Tel Aviv municipality has agreed to enroll some asylum seekers’ children in schools in the north and center of the city, beyond the poorer south Tel Aviv neighborhoods where most of them live.
The municipality announced the decision at a court hearing on Sunday on a petition filed on behalf of roughly 400 children of asylum seekers. The parents are seeking to get permission for their children to attend schools beyond the neighborhood enrollment districts in the south of the city where they live. The asylum seekers are largely from East Africa.
The city said that it would examine all of the requests filed on behalf of first through third graders among the petitioners, but that acceptance would be based on available space. The petitioners agreed to the offer and their lawyers said they believe it will involve about 200 of the 400 children.
But implementation of the agreement will depend on the availability of buses to transport the children from their homes in south Tel Aviv. The decision regarding whether to fund the transportation to and from school will be in the hands of the Education Ministry because the municipality said it would not help cover the cost.
At the start of the hearing, Tel Aviv District Court Judge Erez Yakuel urged the sides to reach a compromise, saying, “I see more shared interests than conflicts of interest.” Municipal officials and the asylum seekers’ attorneys then negotiated in court until they reached an agreement.
Nevertheless, the case will remain pending until solutions are also found for preschoolers and children enrolled in higher grades. In addition, the petitioners are seeking a ruling in principle on the desirability of dispersing asylum seekers’ children throughout city schools rather than having them concentrated in a few schools in south Tel Aviv.
Under the agreement, the petitioners will be provided a list of schools and available placement slots next week. The petitioners will give the city a list of children seeking to fill those slots by the end of the month, and the municipality will issue its final decisions by October 20.
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Citing educational and social reasons, the city maintains that students in fourth through sixth grades should not be transferred to other schools. Nevertheless, the city said that it would be willing to make an exception regarding “requests that involve complicated individual cases.”
Regarding the busing issue, Education Ministry officials told the court that in principle, the ministry opposes paying for busing in cases in which parents choose to send their child to a school outside their local enrollment district. In this case, however, the ministry said it would consider the issue and notify the court next month of its decision.
The director of the Tel Aviv education administration, Shirley Rimon Bracha, said she wanted it made clear to the parents that schools in the north and center of the city don’t provide meals or free after-school programs.
The petitioners’ lawyers, Tal Hassin of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Haran Reichman of Haifa University’s Clinic for Law and Educational Policy, said in a statement that they hope the municipality and the ministry will place these students “in integrated schools, alongside children who are Israeli citizens. We will continue to fight until all the separate preschools and schools, which create different educational settings for white and black children, are shut down. Separate is not equal.”
The city said it “welcomed the fact that during the hearing, it was made clear that the municipality is concerned only with the children’s welfare, and that the petitioners must submit individual transfer requests based solely on the parents’ wishes, on the basis of available places and systemic considerations, so that it is possible to examine each student’s individual circumstances.
“Under the interim agreement, every request that is submitted as required will be considered and addressed with an open mind, just as the municipality has done up to now,” it added. “The municipality is waiting for the Education Ministry’s position on fully funded busing for these children, and we would welcome any arrangement on this issue.”
Prior to the petition and Haaretz’s publication of an investigative report on the matter, the municipality insisted that separating asylum seekers’ children from Israelis was the correct educational policy for various reasons.
For example, Rimon Bracha told Haaretz that “integration has failed everywhere it's been tried, in Israel and abroad. Taking children who are so disadvantaged and who also look different and putting them in such strong neighborhoods will immediately prompt [people] to look askance. They look at them askance ... They always bring the disadvantaged to the privileged, and [the disadvantaged] always come out the losers in this.”
The municipality’s official response to the investigative report was similar. “When the number of asylum seekers’ children in the city was significantly lower than it is today, it was possible to conduct this educational experiment – which didn’t work,” it said. “And if life were a Hollywood film, members of the foreign community and their children would be dispersed to every town and neighborhood in Israel.”
Dafna Lev, who headed the city’s education administration from 2006 to 2016, told Haaretz that the city did run a pilot program of this type in 2009, enrolling 120 children of asylum seekers from south Tel Aviv in 10 schools in north Tel Aviv. But in contrast to the municipality’s official statement, she said the pilot was a success.
“Dispersing the children contributed to the veteran populations in both the south and the north, and of course also to the children who were welcomed with love in all the schools,” she said. “I know of many ties that were created, and parents from the north also provided these children with social support.”
Moreover, though the municipality claimed that enrollment has been based strictly on place of residence, a city official admitted in a recording obtained by Haaretz that “we built schools for the foreign population.”