'PA may fill e. J’lem classroom shortage vacuum'

Beinisch blasts state for failing to solve severe shortage of classrooms; says almost half primary, secondary school students in capital’s Arab sector don't study in public schools.

Arab school children (photo credit: Courtesy)
Arab school children
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch blasted the state this week for failing to make a dent in the severe shortage of classrooms in east Jerusalem and because almost half the primary and secondary school students in the capital’s Arab sector do not study in public schools.
She also warned that the Palestinian Authority will fill the vacuum if Israel does not do so quickly.
“The state didn’t do anything,” Beinisch told the state’s representative, attorney Ilil Amir, when she told the court that the Education Ministry was aware of the problem in east Jerusalem. “It was only when we asked the director of the budget that the Finance Ministry agreed to allocate special funds. The state did not initiate anything.”
The court convened on Monday to discuss a petition by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel calling on the government to repay families who were turned away from public schools for lack of space and had to send their children to private schools or recognized but unofficial schools instead. In both cases, the parents had to pay a tuition fee to these schools.
According to figures from the Jerusalem Municipality, 42,000 Arab pupils study in the public school system, 20,000 in the recognized but unofficial stream, 14,000 in private schools and 6,500 in Wakf Islamic trust schools, while estimates of the number of classrooms that are lacking in the public school system ranges from 1,000 to 1,500. Since 2001, the city has built 296 classrooms.
One reason why it is difficult to determine how many classrooms are actually lacking is because it is not known how many families would refuse to send their children to Israeli-administered schools even if classrooms were available for them.
The state rejected both demands put forward by the petitioners. Amir argued that the private schools did not have permits from the Education Ministry and for that reason were illegal. Therefore, there was no question that the state would refuse to pay for them.
As for the recognized but unofficial schools, Amir said that the state subsidizes these schools up to 75 percent of their operating costs. Therefore, the families had to pay only a fraction of the fees.
Justice Ayala Procaccia rejected the state’s position, saying that it was violating Paragraph 6c of the Compulsory Education Law, which declares that all children subject to the law are entitled to free education.
“Right now, there are 40,000 pupils enrolled in the private and recognized schools,” Procaccia said.
“Some of them would go to public schools if they could.
How does the state propose to reconcile this with the Compulsory Education Law?” Amir said that only 300 pupils who had registered in the public schools system before the beginning of the current school year were turned away and had to study in other schools.
“The law says the state must guarantee public school education to whoever is entitled to it. What is your legal response to this?” insisted Procaccia.
“My answer is not a legal one,” Amir replied. “It addresses a very complicated problem. We would have to examine every one of the students in the private and recognized schools to see which ones the law applied to.”
Procaccia suggested that if the financial solution was too problematic, the authorities should concentrate on other solutions to the classroom shortage such as double shifts in schools, busing, etc. Amir asked the court for time.
”The state wants to find a solution,” she said. “It is willing to pay for one, in the future as well as now, in the wake of the court’s comments.”
But Beinisch scoffed, “I didn’t notice that the state was particularly shaken up by the court’s comments.”
In another development, attorney Daniel Seidemann, who filed a petition 11 years ago demanding that the state and the municipality fill the shortage of classrooms in east Jerusalem, informed the court that he was withdrawing his petition. “During these years we did not solve the problem,” Seidemann told the court. “On the other hand, there has been some change in the situation.”
At the moment, three new schools are under construction in east Jerusalem and three large buildings are being converted into schools, a Jerusalem Municipality representative told the court.