Discrimination in ultra-Orthodox schools leaves over 100 pupils in limbo

Those effected have asked Education Ministry to prepare a guideline for acceptance into the ultra-Orthodox school system.

ULTRA-ORTHODOX BOYS study computers.
The Education Ministry should “seriously consider” regional school assignments for ultra-Orthodox schools to prevent discrimination, the head of the Knesset Education Committee, MK Ya’acov Margi (Shas), recommended at a committee meeting on Tuesday.
“We are repeatedly being embarrassed by the principals of institutions who choose to do as they please,” said Margi of those who discriminate, primarily against Sephardi girls. “I suggest they think about those girls and the parents who cannot look into the eyes of their daughters, who were rejected by the seminaries.”
Israel Porush, the mayor of Elad, spoke briefly at the meeting but the legal adviser to the committee said the specific case of Elad must not be discussed because of a pending lawsuit on the matter that is being dealt with by the courts.
Porush explained that there is a problem of not enough new classrooms in the city to keep up with the growing population and that because he had tried to change the system to prevent discrimination “the whole city was filled with signs against me.”
Margi demanded that the Education Ministry prepare guidelines for acceptance into the ultra-Orthodox school system and asked the ministry to provide the committee with a document mapping out the building needs in Elad.
In addition, Margi called on Porush and representatives from the Education Ministry to work together to find an immediate solution for students in Elad who are still waiting for school assignments for the upcoming year and asked for a report within a week.
Yoav Laloum, chairman of the Noar Kehalacha organization, which fights discrimination and promotes basic rights in the country’s ultra-Orthodox communities, also was present at the meeting and said the system was working “like in Chelm” and needed to undergo a significant change.
In a conversation with The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, Laloum explained that the main problem this year is in Elad, where 120 girls are still waiting to be accepted into high schools where studies are slated to begin on the fast-approaching September 1.
Outside of Elad, in places like Jerusalem and Betar Illit, the problem is much smaller, affecting between five and 15 girls in each city, he said.
“In contrast to previous years, the number of girls who were not assigned [a place in a school]... it’s relatively small. If in previous years we would have spoken about hundreds, and almost 1,000 from around the country who on the first of [September] didn’t know where they were going to school, in the past few years we are talking about close to zero...” he said.
While the problem is getting smaller in terms of number of pupils being turned away, Laloum said, however, that discrimination has not only grown, but also “has become more complicated to solve.”
In previous years, he said, principals would plainly say a Sephardi girl was not wanted in their schools. Today, he said, they make excuses such as not pass - ing the interview, which makes it more difficult to deal with.
Discrimination also exists in the elementary schools but it is harder to find believable reasons not to accept a girl, Laloum said, “in contrast to high school where it is easy to say that her skirt wasn’t okay... In first grade, it’s hard to tell a girl she isn’t modest.”
Laloum explained that for girls, there are mixed Lithuanian-Sephardi schools or those that are Sephardi only, but the latter are perceived as being not as good as the former.
“They want to learn in the mixed schools. They don’t want to learn in a Sephardi ghetto. There are implications in the seminaries for future learning and for a shidduch , there are a lot of consequences,” he said of the choice between the schools.
Laloum stated that discrimination does not only revolve around ethnicity, but also around issues like having parents who work, a family member who served in the army and political affiliation.
“It affects the boys, too, but the issue with the boys is much more complicated,” said Laloum. “The parents’ fear of turning to the Education Ministry about the boys is much more complicated because the schools are more private and it is easier for them to do whatever they want. Anyone who attempts to mess with the principals of the boys’ institutions pays a much heavier price,” said Laloum.
He added that there was a case this past year in Zichron Ya’aCov where he worked with a family to fight the decision of a Talmud Torah. “While we won in the Education Ministry, the parents fled the city afterwards. There is still a long way to go to deal with the boys’ schools.”
Laloum suggested two possible solutions for the problem. The first is that which Margi recommended the Education Ministry investigate – making the schools regional so they automatically accept those in their areas. The other is linking elementary schools with high schools, so the high schools automatically accept all the students from certain elementary schools.
The key, he said, is not to allow principals a say in the matter.
What happens to the girls who are not assigned to schools? “I don’t know. I don’t know,” Laloum said. “In previous years they [stayed] home.”