'Haredi girls' schools 'fertile ground for discrimination''

State Comptroller report slams lack of procedures for acceptance into state-funded religious girls' schools, leading to racial discrimination..

By JONAH MANDEL
May 17, 2011 18:53
Haredi girls.

haredi girls 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

The State Comptroller’s Report aimed scathing criticism at the Education Ministry for its actions, or lack thereof, in determining procedures for accepting girls to haredi state-funded schools and overseeing existent practice.

The absence of clear and transparent guidelines can, and does, lead to racial discrimination in that educational system, the report determined, and called on the ministry to make “real changes” in how it supervises those institutions.

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The report examined the registration of girls to elementary and secondary schools in the recognizedbut- unofficial schools’ haredi sector, and the manner in which they were assigned to the various institutions.

These schools are funded by the state, either partially or fully.

The Comptroller’s Office held a nationwide examination between February and August last year in the Education Ministry, the Ashkenazi- haredi Independent Educational System and the Beit Yaakov schools in Israel. Supplementary inspections were held in the cities of Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Beit Shemesh and Modi’in Illit. Representatives of the State Comptroller’s Office were also at 14 schools – eight elementary and six secondary – in which the demand surpassed available space.

In the background to the comptroller’s examination, as the report states, was the recurring claims of a lack of fairness in accepting girls from different ethnic backgrounds to the haredi institutions.

The topic recently peaked with the Emmanuel ruling, where the High Court of Justice in 2009 decreed that the Beit Yaakov school had discriminated against Sephardi girls.

By law, local authorities are responsible for the registration in the haredi recogn i z e d - b u t - u n o f f i c i a l schools, but it is the Education Ministry that is tasked with supervising the institutions, including the acceptance to them, to ensure the principle of equal opportunity is applied.

The report found that the number of supervisors was far below the ministry’s own standards, creating a situation in which successful supervision would be highly unlikely.

In addition, despite the fact that the ministry issued in 2006 and the following year letters regarding registration and acceptance to such schools, the ministry never turned the content of these documents into guidelines, or issued the information in the form of a director- general’s directive.

While the report notes that one of the aforementioned letters is accessible on the Education Ministry's website, that is not a medium necessarily accessible to the haredi public.

The report states that every recognized-but-unofficial state girls’ school has a regulation code, which entails the appropriate behavior, dress code and so forth. In 2006, the Education Ministry checked the content of these regulations in 86 institutions, and determined that changes must be made in 60 of them, such as prohibiting the acceptance only of girls whose mothers were graduates of Beit Yaakov and whose fathers of “the holy yeshivot”; to delete the passages detailing the parents’ dress code; and to remove prohibitions, such as that the girls may not attend their friends’ birthday parties.

The State Comptroller’s Office checked to see whether the changes had indeed been made in six schools. None had, which according to the report is testimony of the ministry’s weak supervision over such schools.

The report also pointed a finger at the Jerusalem Municipality department for haredi education, which didn’t fill its role in supervising registration to the city’s schools, didn’t take care to examine whether they accept girls according to any clear and known criteria, nor demand of the schools to present such guidelines. Similar criticism was aimed at Bnei Brak, where the municipality does not oversee acceptance procedures for secondary schools, and Modi’in Illit.

Addressing one of the most painful issues in the Sephardi haredi world, the report states that “Haredi secondary schools for girls have a quota system, which was expounded upon in a Jerusalem District Court ruling from 2006, according to which senior Ashkenazi adjudicator Rabbi Shalom Yosef Elyashiv issued an order that at least 30 percent of the girls accepted by any secondary school be of Sephardi origin.”

In practice, however, the report noted that the 30% quota was the maximum limit in Jerusalem. Regarding Modi’in Illit, the report chastises the municipality for ignoring the complaint of a resident who in 2009 charged that his daughter was rejected from a school because of her ethnic background, and slams the Education Ministry for taking nearly a year to deal with the claim.

“The findings are fertile grounds from which racial discrimination can grow,” the report says, and rejects the claim from within the institutions that the presence of Sephardi girls in the schools is evidence to there being no racial segregation.

“Fair selection processes to these schools might have enabled more girls of this ethnic origin to be accepted,” the report reads.

“The Education Ministry must make real changes in its supervision over enrollment to the haredi schools and being accepted to them,” the report says.

It names the actions that must be taken to that end: “Determine clear rules for these procedures and make them public; accommodate the role of the ministry’s inspectors to the unique framework of the haredi schools; enhance the presence of supervisors in these schools; receive regular updates from the [municipalities’ haredi educational sector] regarding the implementation of these procedures.”

The Education Ministry responded to the report by noting that 15 new supervisors to the haredi educational system were recently recruited, and stated its intent to add 30 in the next two years. The ministry also noted its intent to tighten its supervision over the schools acceptance procedures, and consider conducting head-counts to see how many girls from which ethnic background apply and are accepted or rejected to each school. “If we see that the state comptroller is right in saying that there are quotas employed by schools, we will apply sanctions according to the law.”

Also on Tuesday, Shas introduced public two bills to prevent racial discrimination in haredi schools. The movement said it would fight against any attempt to enable a haredi educational system based on anti-Jewish and anti-educational principles.

“The State Comptroller’s Report is important; even before it, Shas proposed two bills to curb and denounce discrimination. The first would put a school principal not accepting students in danger of losing his institution’s legal status, and the second would dictate a regional system,” in which a student would be accepted to a school based on his or her geographical proximity to it.

These proposals were indeed mentioned by Shas MKs earlier this year. A spokesman for the movement explained that their being placed on the Knesset’s table today was not because of the report; the bills were awaiting the approval of Shas’s Council of Torah Sages that came just now, he said.


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