school children teacher .
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Haifa parents from the country's only democratic Arab school on Sunday protested the municipality's decision to take legal action against 55 families who have refused to send their children to the state-run Hiwar (Dialogue) School since the beginning of the academic year.
"We believe this is a clear sign of discrimination against the Arab sector," one of the parents, Mai Haddad, told The Jerusalem Post in a telephone interview on Sunday. "I heard there were similar issues in previous years with Jewish schools in Haifa and no such legal action was taken against the parents."
Less than a month ago, the 55 sets of parents were issued with a court summons to appear before the Haifa Magistrate's Court on December 6 for failing to send their children to school.
Haddad said she and other parents believe that the municipality is trying to change the nature of the school, which was set up two years ago. In its initial phase, the parents won a court case to establish a parent's committee to oversee the creative and educational content of the school curriculum. The school was then set up in a temporary structure, until a permanent building could be found.
Just prior to the start of the 2006 academic year, parents were informed that the founding principal, Muna Mady, had been replaced and were told that the school would be moving to another temporary location until their permanent building was complete in 2007. Haddad said that both the temporary location and the permanent building slated for the school were unsuitable for many reasons. Since September, the 55 children have been learning in an ad hoc, private framework set up by the striking parents.
While the parents believe that the Haifa Municipality and Mayor Yona Yahav are behind the summons, Haifa Municipality spokesman Roni Grossman and Rachel Matuky, head of the Education and Culture Department for the city, claimed that the summons was issued in accordance with the law.
In response to the parents' claims of discrimination, both Grossman and Matuky noted that Yahav had done more for the Arab community's education system than any previous mayor.
Grossman said it was easy to cry discrimination when many of the other "sticking points" raised by the striking parents had failed to sway the municipality.
"Yahav is the first Haifa mayor to set up a new department within the municipality to deal with Arab educational issues," said Matuky.
However, a press release sent out by parents on Sunday claimed that Yahav was deliberately conspiring against them and their desire to maintain a state-run school with deeper parental involvement.
"There are no good state-run schools for Arab children, only private schools," explained Haddad. "We really hoped that Hiwar would provide an option."
Both the Haifa Municipality and the Education Ministry have called on parents to return their children to the school, which is still running but with only 16 pupils.
In a session of the Knesset's Education, Sport and Culture committee on November 13, MK Michael Melchior (Labor) called on the municipality to halt the legal action and return to the negotiating table with the parents. He said such action was not conducive to resolving the issue. He also appointed MKs Haim Amsalem (Shas) and Jamal Zahalka (National Democratic Assembly) to look into the matter and present its recommendations in the coming weeks.