Jurists: Disciplinary Amendments Harm Students' Rights

An amendment to the Student's Rights Law that makes it easier to suspend students damages students' right to an education, legal scholars said yesterday.

The amendment was initiated as part of an Education Ministry program to fight violence and strengthen discipline in schools.

"We saw this week how the Knesset hastily passed this amendment, in its first reading, which voids the right to due process," said retired judge Savyona Rotlevy. "This is a blow to children's most basic right, the right to an education."

Other legal scholars said the amendment "creates an opening for dropping out of the education system under the auspices of the law."

The amendment to the Student's Rights Law allows for suspending students due to serious disciplinary problems or violent behavior, and sending them to another school until any appeals are settled. Another amendment stipulates that the school supervisor or principal who decided on the suspension must appear before the appeals committee, in order "to address all the factors and conduct a balanced discussion."

This week the Knesset approved the first reading of the amendment, which is part of the program to be implemented next school year.

Rotlevy, a former vice president of the Tel Aviv District court, was speaking at a Brookdale Institute conference in Ma'ale Hahamisha about children's participation in decisions affecting their lives.

"The more international and Israeli dialogue on human rights and children's rights evolves, I see over and over again how the adult world unites to bar children their rights, and I blame this for society's ills," she said.

Rotlevy, who chaired the Committee for the Implementation of the Children's Rights Convention in Israel, added, "Children's participation in the education, health, legal or social welfare system is not a kind gesture to the children but a basic right, which we adults must develop on all levels."

Referring to the amendments to the Student's Rights Law, the heads of the community legal services program at Tel Aviv University wrote to Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar that the legislation does not "impose the obligation of placing the suspended student in a new venue on any authoritative body," as there are no criteria for deciding on an immediate suspension, and more.

The Education Ministry responded, "Contrary to Rotlevy's remarks, the amendment to the bill is what protects the real rights of the students, the right to an education, the right to study and the right to be safe from violence. The cabinet and the Knesset, which backed the legislative effort, are expressing the desire of the public, which realizes there is a need for change."

Regarding the charges in the letter, the ministry said, "We respect different opinions and criticism, but we believe these accusations are baseless."