Prestigious Jerusalem High School Opens Its Doors City-wide, Ushering in Conflict in the Process

A 95-percent pass rate in matriculation exams and a number of unique and prestigious programs have turned Jerusalem's Hebrew University High School, known by the Hebrew nickname "Leyada" into one of the best schools in Israel. But the argument over who has the right to go there has heated up recently between parents of the children at the elementary school in the adjacent neighborhood of Bet Hakeren, whose children used to be able to register there automatically and the Jerusalem municipality, which has decided to throw open registration city-wide.

Sunday, the parents committee of the Bet Hakerem elementary school petitioned the High Court of Justice for an interim order to stop the change in conditions for registration, which will begin at the end of January. The parents' argument that the city hid its intentions from them is only one of the reasons for their opposition to the move. "I moved to Bet Hakerem so my kids wouldn't have to go through integration," Idit, the mother of a sixth-grader, says. "Integration caused me and my friends indescribable suffering. Oil and water don't mix," she adds.

In keeping with the recommendations of the Lavi committee, starting next year students in the western part of the capital's nine elementary schools will be able to decide which high school to apply to, rather than go to the one closest to their home. Some of Bet Hakerem's youngsters will find themselves having to compete for a limited number of slots at Leyada. The expected over-registration will be handled by a lottery for free places.

Benzi Nemet, the city's educational administration director, calls the present situation of limiting Leyada to Bet Hakerem children "distorted."

The Beit Hakerem parents joined a still-open High Court case from 2001, which dealt with the possibility that the school might open its registration. No ruling was delivered because the city told the court it was formulating a plan.

"We were shocked to hear only in October about the city's planned change," Tirza Gorletter, on the Bet Hakerem school parents committee, said, The school is the jewel of the neighborhood. It's why we moved here," she added. Jerusalem's mayor Uri Lupolianski said "children of lower socioeconomic backgrounds used to be channeled to poorer schools, and those born with a silver spoon in their mouths to the better schools, without making any effort. I am obligated that every child will have an equal chance to get ahead in keeping with their talents and abilities, and not according to the talents of their parents or their status."

But Idit, the sixth-grader's mother, sees things differently. "Instead of dealing with raising the level of all the city's schools, they're looking for the easy way out. They say we have an obligation to society, but it's our children who will pay the price."

Nemet says the city is taking the needs of the Bet Hakerem children into consideration by reserving 50 percent of the places to be raffled off. Other schools will also be opening programs for excellence, he countered.