Authorities given 5 years to improve e. J'lem education

High Court asks Education Ministry, Jerusalem Municipality to complete procedures enabling all children living in e. J'lem state school access.

Danon at Palestinian school 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Danon at Palestinian school 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The Education Ministry and the Jerusalem Municipality have five years to provide enough classroom space to provide all children living in east Jerusalem access to state schools, the High Court of Justice ruled on Sunday.
If they fail to do so by then, they will have to pay for the tuition of all kindergarten, primary or secondary pupils who have to study in recognized but unofficial or private schools by default.RELATED:Fayyad cancels participation in east J'lem ceremonyEast Jerusalem 1,000 classrooms short
The decision was made in response to a 2008 petition filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel on behalf of five Arab children, residents of east Jerusalem, who wanted to attend public schools but were turned away due to lack of classroom space.
According to information brought before the court by the Jerusalem Education Authority, roughly 40,000 students, half of the Arab school-age population in east Jerusalem, do not attend state schools and are registered in either recognized but unofficial or private schools, or are not registered at all.
Recognized but unofficial schools in east Jerusalem are private schools which are recognized by the state and supervised by the Education Ministry. They also teach the core curriculum required by the ministry of education. Private schools there do not have permits, are not supervised by the ministry, and are essentially illegal.
The shortage of classrooms in east Jerusalem state schools is a result of long-term neglect and insufficient funding by the state and city authorities, the justices said.
“The harm to the right of the children of east Jerusalem to equal access to education due to insufficient provision of free education to those entitled does not meet the standard of administrative and constitutional reasonability,” Justice Ayala Procaccia wrote in her ruling.
“The public authorities failed to present serious arguments to explain or excuse their failure to provide free formal education to all who ask for it.”
Procaccia added that the failure of the authorities to provide access to statefinanced education to all who were entitled and wanted it violated the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom.
“This injury to a wide section of the population who are subject to Israeli law, is not in keeping with the values of a democratic country, does not serve any worthy purpose and is disproportionate according to any acceptable threshold,” Procaccia wrote.
She acknowledged that building the missing classrooms would be a lengthy process. In the meantime, the authorities should considering running double shifts in schools, setting up mobile classrooms or renting more buildings as a temporary solution.
The court granted the state and municipal authorities five years to see if such measures would provide enough room for any pupil who wished to study without charge in a state-run school.
If the problem was not solved in five years from the day of the court’s ruling, the authorities would have to prepare to subsidize the students’ education in recognized but unofficial schools.
This arrangement, Procaccia emphasized, would not apply to pupils studying in private schools.
“The assumption is that the authorities will act determinedly and consistently to close the gaps from year to year, until none remains within five years. If after this time period there will be no full solution found for those interested in attending state schools, the authorities will have to turn to non-formal schools and arrange payment for the remaining children to attend them,” Procaccia wrote.
Regarding the high cost of the proposed remedies, Justice Yoram Danziger quoted Harvard University president Derek Bok, who said, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”
High Court President Dorit Beinish slammed the city and Education Ministry for taking too long to build the needed classrooms, despite the efforts that have been made in recent years to close the gaps, saying progress had been too slow.
“The progress was too slow, even when considering the financial and logistical difficulties and the special circumstances present in east Jerusalem.,” wrote Beinish.
“Either way the outcome is that many children in east Jerusalem are left without appropriate educational facilities. This outcome is unacceptable. The importance of the right to education demands the enlistment of all the relevant bodies to bring the problem to a quick and efficient solution.”
ACRI’s Tali Nir, who represented the children, said, “The High Court determined today in an undeniable fashion that free, mandatory education is not a catchphrase, but a commitment that the state owes all its students – including the children of east Jerusalem.
“The Education and Finance ministries as well as the Jerusalem Municipality will now do what they should have done a long time ago: invest budgets and efforts into turning the longterm neglect of the east Jerusalem education system into a thing of the past. After so many years of failure, the authorities ought to start work tomorrow morning towards removing the financial burden their failure placed on thousands of families tomorrow,” said Nir.
The municipality issued the following statement in response to the ruling: “The municipality is aware of the gaps and needs in the east of the city, which were created by decades of ongoing neglect. As the court indicated, since the beginning of the current mayoral term, there have been many changes in the east, investments were substantially increased and widespread efforts are under way to continue the trend.
“Over the last two years 200 new classes were opened in new schools in the east of the city. The municipality is currently advancing the construction of 248 additional classrooms and the projects are now in the planning and implementation phase...
“The shortage in classrooms is primarily due to a shortage of available land for educational institutions in the city plans. Under the special circumstances that exist, the city is offering solutions by placing portable buildings, renting and converting existing buildings and constructing new ones.
“Today it is estimated that there is a shortage of 700 classrooms, for which different replacements have been found until construction is completed,” the municipal spokesman wrote.