Eilat to integrate African children into schools

Agreement to integrate school system comes on eve of new school year; some will be placed in special remedial classes.

A young African girl in Israel 370 (R) (photo credit: Baz Ratner / Reuters)
A young African girl in Israel 370 (R)
(photo credit: Baz Ratner / Reuters)
Children of African migrants will be integrated into the Eilat school system over the coming school year after the Education Ministry, the city of Eilat and migrant petitioners reached an agreement on Sunday, on the eve of the new school year.
The agreement will allow African migrant parents to bring their children for registration in Eilat’s schools beginning on Monday. Two weeks after registration, their children’s Hebrew proficiency will be tested by school officials who will decide whether or not they can enter the classrooms with their Israeli peers right away or be enrolled in a remedial language program until they are ready. After six months, the school system will gauge the ability of the students in the remedial program to join the regular classrooms.
The decision marks the end of the “separate but equal” agreement that had previously seen migrant children studying in a completely different school system in Eilat. It also finalizes months of court battles that began at the Administrative Court in Beersheba earlier this summer and reached the High Court of Justice last Thursday.
Eilat is home to an estimated 7,000 African migrant workers, most of whom work in the city’s hotels or nearby kibbutzim. Over the past four years, their children have studied in a separate school system, largely due to pressure exerted on the Education Ministry by the municipality and local parents. In the rest of the country, children of African migrants attend schools alongside Israeli students.
Nachum Siri, head of the Eilat Municipality’s urban renewal section, and an anti-migrant activist in the southern city, called on Sunday on local parents to boycott the first day of school and keep their kids at home until the court is forced to reverse the decision.
“I hope that the parents will go on strike and not send their children to school in order to stop this from happening. Also, that these people in the courts sitting in their ivory tower will start sending their [own] children to our schools with the infiltrators’ children and not have it be just us who have to do this,” Siri said.
He isn’t against the children per se, he just feels that the issue isn’t simply one of insufficient Hebrew proficiency among migrant children.
“In order to bring these kids into the Eilat education system we will need an entire support framework for them that we simply don’t have,” Siri said, adding that “if they bring these kids into our schools it will send a message to all the infiltrators across the country to come to Eilat.”
Attorneys Yonatan Berman, Anat Ben-Dor, and Asaf Veitzen, who represented the children, praised the decision on Sunday, saying that “they ensure that the rights and interests of all children of Eilat – children of asylum seekers and children of Israelis – together will be protected and that the integration in the school system will include steps to ensure that gaps [between students] will be reduced.”