Haifa Arabs tell court why they're keeping their children out of school

Since September, the 55 children have been learning in an ad hoc, private framework set up by the striking parents.

Legal council for the 55 striking pupils of the Hiwar School, Israel's only democratic Arab school, appeared at the Haifa Magistrate's Court on Monday to defend the parents' actions against a legal indictment submitted by the Haifa Municipality and the Education Ministry. The parents have refused to send their children to the state-run school since the beginning of the academic year, stating that the Haifa Municipality is trying to change the nature of the school, which was set up two years ago. According to Sawsan Zaher, attorney for the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, who is representing the parents, such an indictment is illegal and all criminal proceedings against the parents for not sending their children to school should be cancelled. "This law is to indict parents for neglecting to send their children to school; the parents of the Hiwar School want to send their children to school," Zaher told The Jerusalem Post following the hearing. She said that the judge gave the parents a chance to respond to the truancy charges and said he would make a decision regarding whether to pursue criminal action against the parents at the next court hearing on December 19. "This is serious now," commented Mai Haddad, one of the parents of the striking children. "We have to try and prove to the court that we had no choice but to take our children out of the school." Initially, 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 founding principal Muna Mady had been replaced and 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. Haifa Municipality spokesman Roni Grossman said that Mayor Yona Yahav had spent upwards of NIS 5.5 million in restoring a building for the school and that he was the first Haifa mayor to set up a new department within the municipality to deal with Arab educational issues. Regarding the indictment, Grossman emphasized that it was not in the municipality's hands but that according to the law, parents who do not send their children to school must either receive permission from the Education Ministry to enroll their children into a private school or must be brought up on criminal charges.