The Education Ministry, the city of Petach Tikva, and several religious schools in Petach Tikva have reached a last-minute deal to absorb over 100 new immigrants from Ethiopia. The story of the immigrant children's ordeal as the school system and Education Ministry fought over their absorption made headlines nationwide over the past week.
Under the deal reached Monday, three semi-private religious Zionist schools that stood at the center of the media storm will take in a total of 48 children. Thirty will begin their studies Tuesday, along with pupils across the country, while the remaining 18, who do not yet live in Petach Tivka, will join their classmates when they move to the city.
Another 60 immigrant pupils will be absorbed in several recognized religious schools that are not part of the public school system. Education Ministry officials will decide which pupils to send to which schools.
The pupils to be absorbed in semi-private religious-Zionist schools will be assigned schools by the Education Ministry as well. Unlike Israeli-born students, they will not be required to undergo an entrance interview or to pass tests in order to gain admittance to the schools.
Background: Education Ministry vs. City vs. Schools
The affair began when three semi-private religious schools were told that they must take in approximately 200 students whose families had recently immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia. The schools willingly registered 100 students entering first grade, but refused to take in the older pupils, arguing that they were unable to accept such a large number of students given the education gaps between them and their Israeli-born counterparts.
The schools offered to set up special remedial classes for the older Ethiopian-Israeli pupils, but were forbidden to do so by the Education Ministry. The Ministry also rejected a deal reached between the schools and the city of Petach Tikva that, like Monday night's last-minute deal, would have seen the 100 older students sent to hareidi-religious schools as well, leaving fewer new immigrants per school.
Education Ministry officials sought this week to solve the problem by sending the new immigrants to secular public schools. However, Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar informed them that educating the immigrants in non-religious schools would violate promises that the children's families had made when they converted to Judaism following their arrival in Israel.
As the beginning of the school year approached, the battle heated up, with accusations hurled from all sides. Government officials and Ethiopian-Israeli rights groups accused the semi-private schools of racism, while school principals, local parents, and Petach Tikva city officials accused the government of forcing the city's relatively small religious-Zionist school network to bear the brunt of immigrant absorption, to the detriment of both immigrants and other pupils.