Palestinian children play on a court at a school in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan June 19, 2017. Picture taken June 19, 2017..
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)
Some 1,840 children have yet to start the school year, Mounir Zgheir, head of the local residents committee in the northeastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Kafr Aqab, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
Zgheir, who asked to be called by his nickname, Abu Ashraf, said the Dar al-Ma’arfeh school, which serves pupils from kindergarten to 12th grade and was expected to serve some 3,400 youngsters, did not open the school year last Tuesday.
The closure is the result of a dispute between the NGO that operates the school and the owners of the land where it is located, and a lack of class room space in nearby schools has prevented the parents of some 1,840 students from making alternative arrangements.
Dar al-Ma’arfeh belongs to the informal but recognized schools (recognized by the Education Ministry) in east Jerusalem, meaning that it is partly supervised by the ministry and the Jerusalem Municipality.
After the organization that operated the school was charged with financial irregularities, the management of the school was given to another organization, which failed to open the school year.
Abu Ashraf told the Post
on Wednesday that the manager of the new organization, Abed Hayek from the Mustaqbal al-Ahaliyeh schools network, got in an argument with the owners of the land on which the school’s buildings are located.
“The owners of the land asked for NIS 4 million, while he said he was willing to give only NIS 2.4m.,” Abu Ashraf said.
“We expect from the municipality, which is responsible for our children’s education, to reach out to us and help us with this matter,” he added.
Abu Ashraf also said that he had warned the municipality in advance that such a scenario might happen, and that it should start operating the school itself and make it an official one, which would receive full funding from the state and be run by it.
“Giving the school to a ‘contractor’ is not a solution,” he said. “A school is not a road or a building for which you can give a contractor the responsibility to deal with. We are talking about education here.”
Kafr Aqab is the northernmost Arab neighborhood in east Jerusalem, located behind the Kalandiya checkpoint, 2 km.
from Ramallah. Some 64,000 of its inhabitants have Israeli IDs, and their children are covered under the Compulsory Education Law and entitled to free education from the age of three.
According to a report that was composed by the left-wing NGO Ir Amim and was published recently, there is a severe shortage in municipality-run official schools in east Jerusalem, and the residents must rely on private ones, or informal but recognized schools that are operated by NGOs and in most cases have lower quality of education.
Oshrat Maimon, the policy advocacy director at Ir Amim, said the issue of Dar al-Ma’arfeh schools is a direct consequence of this phenomenon.
“We have seen in the past 15 years an increase in the number of students going to the unofficial schools in east Jerusalem, and since last year, there are more studying in this type of schools than in official ones,” she said.
“We see NGOs that are sucked into this vacuum that was created due to the lack of official schools,” Maimon said. “They establish unofficial schools with a lack of proper supervision.”
The municipality said that following an order from Mayor Nir Barkat, the Jerusalem Education Administration invested in efforts to solve the Dar al-Ma’arfeh crisis.
“The efforts have already bear fruit, and a solution was found for some 1,400 students in other schools,” reads a statement that was sent to the Post
. “Meanwhile, the enrollment for kindergartens was transferred to the hands of the local community administration in Kafr Aqab, and recently a new round of enrollments took place. The Jerusalem Municipality has seen to the well-being of the children the whole time, and opposed the dismantling of the NGO [which was operating the school in the first place] without find a proper solution to the issue.”