Students at Jerusalem Experimental School Strike Over City's Neglect

Some 900 students boycott academic year's opening day.

Some 900 students of the Experimental School in Jerusalem on Monday boycotted the academic year's opening day in protest of the municipality's ongoing neglect of the school.

The students and many of their parents demonstrated in the capital's Safra Square, outside Mayor Nir Barkat's office, demanding the municipality decide what to do about the school.

Haaretz reported last week that the school's parents committee demanded that Barkat decide right away whether to move the school from central Jerusalem or keep it there and invest money in renovating it.

The parents said the school's buildings had been in disrepair for years and cracks had been in the walls since the school first moved there some 20 years ago.

"The structures' walls are crumbling, the children sit in classrooms with fungus on the ceiling," said Revital Arbel, one of the mothers. "There are leaks, filthy toilets, glass from broken bottles strewn in the yard, a shortage of classrooms and shelters, and poor heating. The city made many promises but didn't keep them."

The municipality had promised in 2009 to make a decision in April 2010. Instead it gave the school a check, which the parents say was enough only to repair a small part of the deficiencies.

"The money was like a Band Aid over what needed to be done," said Dan Zomer, former head of the high school parents committee.

"But with no decision and plan for the school it's worth nothing. It's a policy of doing the bare minimum and not making a decision," he said.

The school, which has both elementary and high school divisions, is considered one of the most prestigious in the capital and a pioneer in modern education. Many see it as one of the last bastions of secular education in downtown Jerusalem, which is rapidly becoming ultra-Orthodox.

Following a local radio station's report on the school's advanced state of neglect in 2009, the municipality promised to renovate it by the following summer. But the parents say that since then things have only gotten worse.

Zomer said yesterday the students may boycott studies on other days as well.

The Jerusalem municipality said "the mayor is spearheading a plan to relocate the school to another site which will enable its development ... The mayor instructed to plan for relocating the school, both elementary and high school, to a new compound due to be built within three years. The mayor also gave instructions to renovate the campus.

This year NIS 280,000 have been allocated for renovations to the elementary school. Altogether this mayor has allocated NIS 2.1 million for renovations in the school, constituting 14 percent of the overall municipal renovation budget. In view of the city's commitment to develop the school, there's no point in boycotting studies, a move that harms the children most of all."