Children of asylum seekers to be integrated into Tel Aviv schools

96 refugee children will be part of a pilot scheme to test whether their integration into the wider education system would be beneficial.

 SOME OF THE thousands of asylum seekers, mainly from Sudan and Eritrea, who are living in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
SOME OF THE thousands of asylum seekers, mainly from Sudan and Eritrea, who are living in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)

In response to a petition submitted by hundreds of parents, the state and the Tel Aviv Municipality announced on Sunday a pilot in which 96 refugee children will study together with the rest of the residents.

The High Court of Justice discussed the petition against the segregation of asylum seekers in schools in Tel Aviv. Dozens of parents who stand behind the demand were present at the hearing.

In the response submitted by the Education Ministry and the Tel Aviv Municipality, they said that they agreed on a pilot to integrate students in schools in the center and north of the city.

As part of the agreements between the municipality and the state, 96 children who will enter the first grade next year will be integrated into educational institutions in the center and north of the city.

The ministry announced that during the two years of the pilot, data will be collected and a study will be conducted, at the end of which it will be decided how to proceed. Attorney Tal Hasin from the Civil Rights Association and Haran Reichman from the Clinic for Law and Education Policy, who represented the parents who appealed the ruling given in the district court, were not satisfied with that.

Asylum seekers demonstrate in front of the Knesset (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Asylum seekers demonstrate in front of the Knesset (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

"It seems that the court also realized that the program offered now, the pilot, is completely inadequate and that there is no reason not to expand the number of students and apply it to higher grades as well," they said.

"Nevertheless, the scandalous claim of the Education Ministry that it should explore whether integration is good for this unique population was heard in the debate. This is an outrageous claim, which would not have been heard in connection with any other group in the population."

The hearing took place in front of a panel of three judges - Yitzhak Amit, Gila Canfy-Steinitz, and Khaled Kabub. The petitioners opposed the decision to leave the older children out of the program. Kabub asked for clarification on this issue as well.

Attorney Erin Spadi-Attila, who represented the Education Ministry, explained the program being left as a pilot: "There is not enough research to say that the benefit that the child will accrue will necessarily be superior."

Hasin and Reichman explained the consequences of segregation in the discussion.

"We are raising generations of illiterate children, condemning them to ignorance. And we will all pay for it," they said.

They criticized the definition of the integration as a pilot which they continued with a question mark.

"There is a very basic question that accompanies the case: Can testing the results mean that in 2023, there will be separate educational institutions? It cannot be that they are testing segregation or non-segregation."

Refugee children attend segregated schools

As of today, more than 90% of the children of asylum seekers in Tel Aviv attend four schools in the south of the city. These institutions are completely segregated - all the students in them are children of refugees and migrant workers. At the same time, the children of the older Israeli residents of the neighborhood are sent to kindergartens and other schools.

The initial petition was submitted to the Tel Aviv District Court in August 2021 by hundreds of Tel Aviv residents, alongside the organizations "the Levinsky Park Library" and "Assaf" and members of the city council. The state transferred the responsibility to the municipality, as the person responsible for the placement process in the schools. The state also clarified that it will not finance transportation to distant schools when there are nearby options, in accordance with the policy of the Education Ministry.

As part of the settlement between the parties, the municipality approved 91 requests to change registration, but the petitioners conditioned the transfer of the students on the payment of transportation - and the agreement did not come to fruition.

Last year the district court rejected the petition and stated that there is no reason to interfere in the municipality's considerations. In the appeal to the High Court, the petitioners argued that the district determined that the registration was done legally - but avoided dealing with the claim of discrimination raised in the petition.

They sought to ban separate educational frameworks and instruct the Tel Aviv municipality to "implement a placement and integration policy that will ensure its legal obligation to provide quality and equal education to all the city's children, including transportation to the integrated schools throughout Tel Aviv-Jaffa."

According to the petitioners, the summary submitted to the court clarifies that the judgment they appealed was wrong.

"The discussion was encouraging in various aspects. The state and the Education Ministry explicitly clarified that it is possible to conduct an integrated registration for students based on the registration regulations, and thus effectively overturned the district's ruling.

The state and the Education Ministry also clarified that the education of asylum seekers alongside Israeli citizens is the right and appropriate solution for both dealing with the gaps that characterize the beginning of their lives and the feeling of humiliation and alienation," explained Hasin and Reichman.

"The matter was brought to the personal examination of the education minister, who discussed it in depth," read the response of the Education Ministry and the municipality. In the answer, they addressed another issue - a new and separate program for the schools of asylum seekers.

"The Education Ministry and the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality are examining, as part of the pilot, additional ways to improve the response to the population of those without status. Among other things, the ministry will examine the creation of a program adapted to some of the schools where there is a high concentration of those without status," they announced. "These days the Education Minister is also looking into possible solutions for the mixed schools in the south of the city, where the community's children study at a high rate."

Hasin and Reichman expressed concern about the move.

"The intention to create a differentiated curriculum for students in the separate schools is also particularly troubling, one that will not allow them to develop an attachment to Israel and will qualify them to leave the country," they said. It sounds like preparations for deportation."