Ministry: Principals won't assign girls' schools

New Education Ministry committee to "ensure all students are enrolled" regardless of their religious, ethnic background.

By JONAH MANDEL
July 13, 2011 03:08
Religious school girls

Religious school girls 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

The Education Ministry has, with the formation of a new committee, expropriated from the hands of principals the power to assign high school girls to haredi institutions, as pressure on the ministry grows to find solutions for what is regarded as racial discrimination against Sephardi girls.

In a letter sent to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on Monday, Education Ministry director-general Dr. Shimshon Shoshani asked that Barkat form a committee to “ensure that all the pupils will be enrolled in schools.”

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The committee will be led by the head of the educational system in the municipality, and will include two religious public figures and an Education Ministry truant inspector.

The same letter was also sent to the mayors of the haredi cities Beitar Ilit, Bnei Brak and Modi’in Ilit, and set July 28 as the deadline for finding solutions to the non-enrolled girls.

On Tuesday, however, the principals were told by senior Ashkenazi adjudicator Rabbi Shalom Yosef Elyashiv that the Education Ministry should not be allowed to determine haredi educational practices.

At a meeting in the rabbi’s home, Elyashiv - who in the past spoke out against racism in schools and last year issued a harsh letter on the subject - reiterated to the educators his grief over discrimination in Ashkenazi as well as Sephardi educational institutions, said Shlomo Kook, a spokesman for the rabbi. But Elyashiv also stressed that “external elements should not be allowed to dictate the rules, since such intervention could spread to other issues of principle within the educational realm, which is so important to us.”

The same forum, sans the rabbi, met last week at the Knesset in the United Torah Judaism (UTJ)’s chambers, where they committed to finding a solution for each and every girl without a school.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) said that the lawmaker objected to the new committee, as the institutions themselves were already taking care of the problem.

Shoshani’s directive comes less than two weeks after the principals of the secondary Ashkenazi haredi schools for girls and the Beit Yaakov network sent the Education Ministry a long letter, in which they detailed the ways they were ensuring there was no racial discrimination applied in accepting, or rejecting, girls at the institutions.

A recent State Comptroller report slammed these haredi institutions on the absence of clear and transparent enrollment guidelines, a situation that can lead to racial discrimination.

The Education Ministry was warned to make “real changes” in how it supervised these schools.

Sources told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that there were currently 150 Sephardi girls in Jerusalem who were not accepted to a secondary educational institution, less than two months before the school year begins. An total of another 250 girls were in that condition in the other haredi cities Shoshani’s letter reached.

The claim that Ashkenazi haredi high schools discriminate against Sephardi families in accepting their daughters to the institutions is not new, and attempts to deal from within the haredi world have borne no real results. The quota system ordered by senior Ashkenazi adjudicator Rabbi Shalom Yosef Elyashiv, according to which at least 30 percent of any secondary Ashkenazi school for girls will be Sephardi, has not held up.

At a Knesset Education Committee meeting in January on the topic, Itamar Bar-Ezer, who is in charge of the haredi education system in the capital, said that there were at the time “only” 28 ninth-grade haredi Sephardi girls without a school in the capital out of their 2,500 peers in that grade. Bar-Ezer also denied that racial discrimination was what kept these girls out of the educational system, and explained that it was due to the parents’ refusal to send their daughters to institutions offered by the city. Head of the committee MK Alex Miller (Israel Beiteinu) encouraged the Education Ministry to implement “budgetary sanctions” against institutions that practice ethnic discrimination, or even fire their principals. Attempts by Shas ministers and MKs to form a joint committee composed of representatives from Shas and United Torah Judaism to solve the problem that is making the ultra-orthodox sector look anything but good have also led nowhere.

A concrete incentive to the Education Ministry’s decisive action might be the implicit threat of a petition to the High Court of Justice, an option that has been brought up on occasion by attorney Yoav Laloum of the Noar Kahalacha NGO, who forced the ministry to intervene in the racially segregated Beit Yaakov school in Emmanuel last summer. Laloum recently posted on his Facebook page a call for contributions to the NGO “ahead of the petition on the high schools – pass on as much as possible!” There was no indication as to when he might take such legal action.

The haredi educational system is traditionally opposed to external intervention from such entities as the state and its’ Education Ministry. But these girls’ high schools are considered an extraterritoriality in the haredi world, run by powerful men who decree fates – a young woman’s schooling is a very important component of her pedigree – and do not heed to the traditional authorities in the haredi world, the Knesset members and even senior rabbis.

The damage caused to the haredi Ashkenazi public by recalcitrant principals is vast, haredim say, as it makes the entire group appear racist.

Laloum said in response to Shoshani’s letter that “after dozens of years of discrimination in haredi educational establishments, the Education Ministry is finally cleaning things up. But this measure is too late and too little. The ministry should entirely cancel the enrollment process, since it is based on quotas that limit Sephardim and discriminate against them.”


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