Israel Admits to Allowing 'Discriminatory' Junior High Policy in Haifa Area

Education Ministry says won't continue approving selective admissions process in Haifa-area town that violates its own ban.

A junior high school in Daliat al-Carmel has been employing selective admissions criteria with the approval of the Education Ministry, even though the practice, which some say discriminates against low-income students, violates the ministry's own longstanding prohibition.

Following complaints from parents of junior high school students in the Haifa-area town, who said one school was not admitting students with a grade-point average below 85, the Education Ministry acknowledged its prior approval of selective admissions but said schools must bring the practice to a halt by next year.

"Admissions tests must not be used to determine which students get into junior high school," Rachel Matuki, the ministry's director of the Haifa district, wrote to Rabia Basis, who heads the Daliat al-Carmel education department. "Ahead of the 2013-2014 school year, in contrast to preceding years, approval is not being granted to selectively admit incoming junior high school students."

Matuki sent the letter after parents threatened to sue the Education Ministry if it did not bring the selective admissions process to an end.

The complaints related to Daliat al-Carmel's ORT School of Science and Leadership, which admits seventh-grade students only if they have a grade-point average of 85 or higher. Under Education Ministry guidelines, the use of grades as criteria for admission is considered admissions testing and is prohibited.

"Such a policy leads to clear discrimination," Haran Reichman, a lawyer at the University of Haifa's law and education policy clinic, wrote to the Education Ministry at the request of local parents. "While the lion's share (two-thirds) of ORT Science and Leadership are from the middle and upper socioeconomic class, the lion's share at ORT Koptan are from lower income brackets."

The incoming seventh-graders typically attend one of the two schools, with most going to the less selective ORT Koptan Halaby, which does not have a minimum GPA admissions requirement.

Vered Livne, the CEO of education reform group Hakol Hinuch, said Daliat al-Carmel is not the only Israeli town with schools that employ selective admission procedures, in violation of Education Ministry directives.

"It's something that we know occurs in other places," she said. "The placement practice here, which we know is not the only one of its kind, is not just illegal but exacerbates educational disparities in Israel."

The Education Ministry said the issue in Daliat al-Carmel has been resolved.

"Since Rachel Matuki became director of the Haifa district, clear directives have been issued over the impermissibility of entrance exams for admission to junior high," the ministry said. "With respect to Daliat al-Carmel, it should be noted that the district director has dealt with the matter."

The ministry said Matuki has also informed parents of the new registration process for junior high that will conform to the regulations.