School Separating Ashkenazi, Mizrahi Kids May Lose License

The Education Ministry is threatening to withdraw the license of the Beit Yaakov girls' school in Immanuel unless it halts its policy of separating Ashkenazi and Mizrahi students.

Until recently the ministry tended to accept the position of the Independent Education Center, to which the school belongs, according to which the separation is a "new track" based on educational and religious, not ethnic, factors. The ministry is to submit a response to the High Court of Justice on the issue within days.

In February the nonprofit Noar Kehalakha, which fights anti-Mizrahi discrimination in the ultra-Orthodox school system, submitted a petition to the High Court of Justice against the Education Ministry and the Independent Education Center alleging clear discrimination at the school.

The suit claims the school served the entire community up until the current school year, when the administration decided to place most of the Ashkenazi students in separate classrooms. The school building was split, with a fence and separate entrances for girls from Ashkenazi and from Mizrahi families. In addition, the two groups began their day at different times and wore different uniforms.

The petition followed a Channel 2 television report and the appointment by Education Ministry Director General Shlomit Amichai of an examiner, attorney Mordechai Bas.

In his March report, Bas cited the illegality of the school's actions but accepted the center's claim that the measures were part of a new track rather than separation on ethnic grounds.

The ministry's response to the court stated that although the situation at the school "required correction," the motive for the separation "was not ethnic or racial at all and was based on legitimate considerations of differences and gaps in the worldview and the exercise of religious faith and practice that this entails." The ministry added that the situation at the school should not be restored immediately to its previous state.

Now, with the change in the ministry's position, Amichai is demanding just that, unless the Independent Education Center can present a clear curriculum and educational criteria for its "new track." In a letter sent to the center's attorney two weeks ago she wrote that in the absence of such a program and criteria the ministry will consider delicensing the school, "with all that implies on the level of economic sanctions and the cut of ministry support for the school." It should be noted that Amichai made a similar threat in January, before retracting it.