Israel says 'no' to racially divided schools
Education Minister Sa'ar orders towns to integrate Ethiopian students into school systems.
By Revital Hoval • Ha’aretz
As a result of discrimination emerging in various schools and parent struggles over the issue, the Education Ministry is beginning to close schools in which a significant majority of pupils are of Ethiopian origin, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar announced yesterday.
Two such schools - Ner Etzion in Petah Tikva and the Rashbi school in Be'er Yaakov - have already been informed that they are targeted for closure, and that no first grades would be opened in them this year, he said, in an address to the Haifa Education Conference.
Sa'ar also attacked the growing networks of private and ultra-Orthodox schools and decried the fact that they receive funding of up to 75 percent of what the public schools get.
"The risk of exposing the state, state-religious and Arab schools systems to unfair competition that is funded by the state endangers the future of Israeli society," he said. "This funding comes on top of very high payments by parents, which creates a situation that draws out the well-to-do pupil [from the public system].
"Public education is thus confronting a challenge coming from this private education, which isn't even private because it's [publicly] funded," he said.
In explaining the move to close mostly Ethiopian schools, Sa'ar blamed "the creation of homogeneous schools," as he put it, on the concentration of Ethiopian immigrants in specific neighborhoods and towns, court rejection of integration policies that had been attempted by former Education Minister Limor Livnat and racism, which "spurred other families to abandon these schools.
"I have thus instructed all the [ministry's] district directors to prepare, within a month, a multiyear plan that will fundamentally change this reality by closing down schools in which all, or the overwhelming majority, of pupils are from the Ethiopian community," he said.
"It's true most schools are integrated, but if there are even 20 schools and kindergartens like this, it's a phenomenon that must be changed," he said. "We have the cooperation of the Ethiopian community for this.
"It's true that in certain cases, parents would prefer to have their child study in the neighborhood and avoid transportation, but, except in rare cases, it's best for the children to be integrated," he said.
Sa'ar's address was interrupted by hecklers who argued that the Education Ministry had cut 10 days from the special education school schedule, but he denied this, saying that at issue was a request to add 10 more days that has not yet been approved.
In this context Sa'ar referred to the social protest, saying "Today, under the rubric of 'the protest,' one can say anything and get away with it...[but] personal attacks will not bend the system and change things."
At the conference, which was sponsored by the Haaretz group of local newspapers in conjunction with the Haifa municipality, the municipality for the first time awarded an education prize to an outstanding school, and the winner was Hugim High School. The NIS 250,000 prize will be divided among the school's teachers.