The Tel Aviv Municipality has frozen a plan to build an elementary school for foreigners’ children in Levinsky Park in the southern part of the city, after it faced across-the-board opposition. In halting the plan, which had received final approval from the city council, the municipality said there was no longer a need for it. The park, adjacent to the old central bus station, is the only green area in the Neve Sha’anan neighborhood.
The plan to build the school was approved in January, amid a shortage of schools in south Tel Aviv. Figures presented by the municipality showed that each year 25 new first-grade classes are added in the area, including 20 for the children of migrants. The planned school was supposed to take in three of these classes, and a total of 600 students in grades one through six, with 40 percent coming from Neve Sha’anan and the rest from nearby neighborhoods with a high concentration of foreign workers.
The decisions was approved by the local planning and building council after Mayor Ron Huldai imposed coalition discipline on the committee members, a rare step. On Sunday, a municipality source said, “It looks like the original assessment was incorrect,” and attributed it to a decrease in the rate of population growth in the area. No figures were presented to support the new claim.
Activists in the neighborhood, both those who support integrating the foreigners in city life and those who wish to expel them, opposed the plan because it would use the only open space in the area. “The plan was designed to illegally justify further segregation,” says neighborhood committee chairwoman and city council member Shula Keshet. “The decision was made due to political pressure and at the expense of the weaker residents in the city. The city has basically admitted that the idea was unwarranted from the beginning.” A petition that Keshet submitted against the plan is still awaiting the municipality’s response.
Levinsky Park was built on a lot where another school once stood. That school was torn down in 2005 because of a decline in the number of children in the neighborhood. From a planning standpoint, the area is still designated for public buildings. In 2016, a similar attempt to build a cluster of schools there was also halted. In the next few years, the park will shrink due to construction of the light rail in the area.
Currently, the average amount of open space per neighborhood resident is 1.2 square meters. The Environment Ministry recommends an amount of at least five square meters. After the construction of the school and the light rail, the amount of open space would have shrunk to 0.65 square meters per resident. In north Tel Aviv, the average stands at 17 square meters per resident. These figures are based on calculations made by the Environment Ministry.
Attorneys Haran Reichman of Haifa University’s Clinic for Law and Education Policy and Tal Hassin of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel recently queried the municipality about the plan. The two welcomed the announcement of the plan’s suspension, saying: “Halting construction in the park will prevent the destruction of the only green space in the area, and slow the increasing segregation in education between the children of asylum seekers and children who are Israeli citizens.”
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The Tel Aviv Municipality says, “Construction of a school in an area designated for public buildings in Levinsky Park was suspended due to a decrease in the rate of growth of the number of children in the neighborhood. At this stage, the current situation does not require the addition of a new school. We will continue to monitor the figures and adapt the educational solutions to changing needs.”