Sticks and stones

The merger between TALI Bayit Vagan and the Stone School has been canceled.

schoolgirl (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The general strike declared Wednesday may have made national headlines, but it was not the only strike held this week. This Sunday, the parents association of the Stone Elementary School in Kiryat Hayovel called a strike. On the first day, 95 percent of the students - and their parents - observed the strike. On Monday, after a few hesitations, a decision was made to continue striking, and again participation was very high. A meeting called by Manhi (the Jerusalem Education Administration) head Benzi Nemet on Tuesday to resolve the strike resulted in the cancellation of the merger with TALI Bayit Vagan, planned for next year. "It's not easy for parents to observe a strike at school," says Rafi Even-Tzur, head of the association, "But we just couldn't go on, it shows how bad it is." The Stone School was scheduled to merge with the TALI Bayit Vagan Primary School, which lacks room for the ever-increasing number of students asking to register there. On the other hand, for the past few years Stone has been suffering from a decreasing number of students, in part due to changes in the neighborhood's demographics, so a merger seemed a natural fit. "We have some reservations, some hesitations. It's understandable, but in general we do not oppose the merger - most parents are happy about it," continues Even-Tzur. "It's just that we feel that Manhi acts as if we are not important enough, as if we were insignificant, and the parents are very hurt." "The parents feel they are alone in this struggle," adds Eti Binyamin, head of the regional parents association. "The principal of the school has very tense relations with them, the community administration doesn't stand strongly enough on their side, and on top of all this, they feel they have become the administration's recycle bin." "Recycle bin" is too delicate a term to describe how we feel, adds Sima, a mother of two at Stone school. She cites as an example four Arab children who became pupils at Stone three weeks ago. "Nobody prepared us, or the kids," she complains. "Nobody came to explain why they arrived here, what it could mean in terms of security, of social contacts, nothing, as if we were not part of this. We just don't exist for Dr. Haim Rubinstein [head of primary schools at Manhi], who treats us like trash. This is unacceptable." According to parents, one morning the principal ushered four new students into a classroom. "She said to our children: 'These are good Arab kids: they hate Arabs and they love Jews, so they will study here with you,' and that was all! Is that the proper way to introduce four Arab kids in a Jewish school, in a neighborhood where we have had terror attacks and terror victims, including families of students? Some people accused us of racism. That is just not true. It's just that this is not the way to handle it. I'm sure Manhi wouldn't have dreamed of handling it that way had it happened in a stronger school and environment," concludes Even-Tzur. Municipal spokesman Gidi Shmerling responded that the Arab children are treated like all other pupils, "without discrimination." The principal of the Stone School, Livnat Bichler, is scheduled to leave the post soon and begin working for Manhi. "Time and again we have asked her to show us the school's financial reports. For example, we've discovered that the education committee of the community administration has allocated us NIS 90,000 for remedial teaching. Lots of children have finished first grade and can't read a word, so why hasn't a single [remedial] teacher ever helped them?" asks Even-Tzur. The Tuesday meeting not only resulted in the cancellation of the merger, but in a few other steps: Nemet promised that a new principal will be found ASAP and that a solution to the issue of the four Arab students would be sought. The parents agreed to stop the strike and another meeting will be scheduled in a few weeks. The decision to cancel the merger was announced through a personal letter from Rubinstein directly addressed to the parents of TALI and Stone. "After a long and serious effort to merge the two schools, we [Manhi] have to acknowledge that the parents of the Stone School have put bad energy into the project until it became clear that it won't work. We have decided to drop it and search for other ways to create a process of renewal and progress at the Stone School."