Israeli Arab School Students Taught Their Rights

According to Education Ministry figures, rate of students from Arab communities who report violence is higher than in Jewish schools.

The Education Ministry has recently begun distributing booklets on school students' rights for teachers in the Arab school system. The booklet, a translation of material distributed in Jewish schools several years ago, discusses the Pupils Rights Law, which Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar now wants to see amended to permit expeling children from school for violence.

The booklet reflects existing ministry policy to a great extent, and the ministry says it would be changed if the amendment is passed. In the activities it proposes, the booklet links students' rights closely to their responsibilities. For example, chapter 1 deals with "my right to be protected and loved," but also "my responsibility to show others that I care." Another chapter discusses "my right not to be injured, insulted or humiliated by others," as well as "my responsibility not to hurt others verbally or physically."

The activities are geared to pupils of all ages, from elementary to high school.

According to ministry figures, the rate of school students from Arab communities who report violence is slightly higher than in Jewish schools. In contrast, more Arab pupils reported that they have closer, caring relations with their teachers than Jewish pupils reported.

The principal of a large Arab high school in northern Israel said: "The issue of the childrens' rights, and certainly those involving pupils, is not as developed in our sector as in the Jewish sector. It is not accepted, for example, to involve students in setting school regulations. In many places it is still customary to give harsh punishments that are not educational."

In a letter to school principals, the supervisor of pupils' rights, Tova Ben-Ari, who initiated the booklet, wrote that it "constitutes the basis to lead to a culture of rights and consensus. It is the state's obligation to make the rights known, and to teach and explain the Pupils Rights Law, and the teachers have authority and responsibility because the pupils have rights."

The booklet encourages students' involvement in decision-making in the school, which it notes "encourages the self-expression of each pupil, teacher and parent, and seeks fair practice."

Educators and legal experts who oppose the Education Ministry's plan to increase discipline in schools as a response to violence say the new policy hurts fair practice and expands the authority of teachers and principals.

A nationwide parents organization yesterday released a statement criticizing the ministry's plan to expel students for disciplinary problems or serious violence until their case is finally resolved.

An Education Ministry spokesperson said: "After the amendments to the law are passed, the booklet will be updated on the ministry's Web site. Except for the matter of the Pupils Rights Law that is part of the booklet's guidance kit, there is no contradiction between it and the amendment the ministry proposes."

In response to the parents' criticism, the ministry said that the Pupils Rights Law "serves the children's true rights, the right to an education, to learn and to be protected from violence."