Tehilla: Closing doors?

"It's clear that what I see as a privilege, the Ministry of Education sees as a threat."

tehilla school 88 (photo credit: )
tehilla school 88
(photo credit: )
An appeal to overturn the closure order facing Beverly Gribetz's Tehilla school went unanswered, Sunday, at Jerusalem's District Court. Judge Yehudit Tzur ruled that the school's request for a license should be investigated and decided upon within the accepted four-month period, but that the school be closed by November 6, honoring the demands of the Education Ministry and the Jerusalem Education Authority. As reported in In Jerusalem on October 14, the Tehilla school opened its doors on September 1 without a valid license from the Education Ministry. The school comprises 25 tenth-grade girls, 20 of whom moved from the Evelina de Rothschild school to Tehilla, attracted by what they view as Gribetz's dynamism, the liberal-orthodox outlook and the high caliber of teachers. The school applied for a license on August 30, after obtaining the four necessary elements required for a license (students, teachers, timetable, and building). By September 5, a 30 day closure order issued by the Jerusalem Education Authority had already been sent to the school. The letter stated that Tehilla was operating without a legally required license and that the school would be shut within thirty days. The non-profit organization Tehilla and the school's lawyer, Ori Keidar, filed an appeal with Jerusalem's district court requesting a suspension of the closure order. The suspension of the closure order was not approved and the court dismissed accusations brought by Keidar that the school had been discriminated against as a result of character grievances between the Ministry of Education and the Tehilla principal. Nevertheless, Justice Tzur did ask why the Ministry of Education, represented by legal advisor Mohammad Haj-Yahiya, had not proceeded to investigate the valid licensing request submitted over a month before. Tzur also advised that the Ministry act "speedily." Gribetz, parents and members of the Tehilla organization who packed the court room to capacity expressed bitter disappointment with the court's decree. "Where is my daughter supposed to go to school?" asked parent Judy Cohain. "I looked everywhere for a suitable school for her. What are we supposed to do now?!" "Once in a while you see a leader who has real vision," commented another parent. "Only it's clear that what I see as a privilege, the Ministry of Education sees as a threat." Parents convened on Monday morning to discuss possible solutions for the girls in the interim period until a final decision pertaining to the school's license is made by the end of January 2006. "We still don't know what the solution will be, but we do know that the parents all desire to keep the girls together as a group," says Gribetz. "We certainly won't go underground or start teaching the girls in a decrepit caravan in the West Bank." Asked as to whether she feels that it may have been impulsive to open the school without a license and under such a short time frame, Gribetz is contemplative but not regretful. "Many schools in Jerusalem open in this way and for some, the Education Authority simply turns a blind eye and doesn't use the tools they have. Here they chose to use all their strength. We knew that this year would be a pilot year, and that it wouldn't be smooth, but there was no guarantee that if we had waited until next year things would have been easier." "It's a very unusual situation," says Keidar. "The Ministry hardly ever goes through with a closure order despite the fact that many, many schools open in this way. The only times when the order is carried out is if a school clearly represents a security threat or is pedagogically dubious." The municipal spokesman provided IJ with a written response: "The Tehilla organization created an educational institution without the permission of the Jerusalem Education Authority and without a license from the Ministry of Education... the order of the district court will be studied and the Education Authority will uphold them... . Schools serve the entire student population without the consideration of the country of origin of students' parents, and the Education Authority's treatment of all schools is fair and nondiscriminatory." Truant officers have told the school body that the girls will be dispersed should Gribetz and Tehilla parents fail to find alternative solutions. What will happen in January, if the license is finally given, is another question. In Jerusalem asked the current principal of the Evelina de Rothschild school, Daniel Zecharia, whether former pupils would be allowed to return to the school during the interim period. The question is particularly pertinent in light of a letter signed by Zecharia and sent to all parents stating that if the girls failed to return by September 20, they would not be accepted past September 20. Zecharia did not respond to IJ's questions before the issue went to print.
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