No school for 180 Sephardic girls

Racial discrimination continues: Many haredi students yet to be admitted into educational institutions in Jerusalem for 2011-2012 school year. 'Student list is determined before the registration begins,' says local association

Ynet News, Israel/May 17, 2011

The 2011-2012 school year will open in four months, but it seems racial discrimination is already raising its ugly head: Ynet has learned that nearly 200 haredi girls in Jerusalem have yet to be admitted into educational institutions in the city, although registration has already ended.

The students, most of them of Sephardic descent, make up 7% of the city's ultra-Orthodox female students and are slated to begin studying in a seminary (high school for girls) next year.

Almost a year after the arrest of parents of Ashkenazi students in the community Emmanuel over local schools' discriminatory policies, it seems racial discrimination in Israel is still alive and kicking.

Mystery of 'missing' students

According to Jerusalem Municipality records obtained by Ynet, some 180 students our of 2,500 have not been admitted into educational institutions ahead of the 2011-2012 school year. These numbers may drop, but past experience shows that the situation only gets worse.

In Jerusalem there are several students who are not studying at all - six weeks before the end of the current school year - as the municipality has failed to find them suitable educational institutions since September 2010.

The municipality's haredi education department, rabbi committees handling the matter and the institutions' principals reached an agreement several days ago, allowing these students to begin studying for the short period left until the end of the school year. And yet Ynet has learned that two of the students have not been included in the deal.

In addition, there is still a small number of girls who have been sitting at home for more than 18 months - for the same reason - since the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year. The Municipality says it know of only three such students, but according to its own records there were about 20 girls "lacking an institution" that year.

A knowledgeable source explains that "after a year and a half at home, most of these girls have already dropped out completely and have 'gone on the streets', and have therefore 'disappeared' from the records of the municipality and rabbi committees. It's sad, but no one is looking for an institution for them, so they're no longer counted."

'Entrance exams only for protocol'

The Noar Kahalacha ("halachic youth") association, which fights racial discrimination in the haredi education, confirms that there is no room in the prestigious seminaries for every girl seeking to study there.

The association claims, however, that there is no equal opportunity for every candidate, as the institutions always favor Ashkenazi students, preferably from a "known" family.

"In fact, the list is closed way before the official registration opens," an association official says. "The registration and entrance exams are only done for the protocol.

"This is why the daughter of a prominent rabbi from northern Jerusalem is admitted to a school located in the city center, while girls living next to the school are left out. The regional registration issue must be advanced."

Attorney Yoav Lalum of Noar Kahalacha said in response to the figures that "the Jerusalem Municipality is washing its hands of the situation year after year. The problems repeat themselves every year because there are some elements in the municipality who deny the existence of quotas but do all they can to help the seminaries maintain a quota of up to 30% Sephardic students."

Council Member Asher Mishali of Shas, who serves as the Jerusalem representative in a rabbis' committee appointed by the haredi party to handle racial discrimination, said the problem had been solved for this school year and expressed his hope that an educational institution would be found for every girl before the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year.

"Up until two months ago, 35 girls were left out. The problem was solved after the seminary principals - most of them Lithuanians - were pressured by our rabbis' committee and the Ashkenazim," says Mishali.

"Last week, a registered letter was sent to the institution principals, and in my meeting with the mayor we agreed that principals who refuse to take in the students will face sanctions."

Municipality: Working for all sectors

The Jerusalem Municipality said in response that it was "working on many levels to provide an overall response to the educational needs of all of the city's sectors."

As for next year's registration problem, the municipality said: "Some 180 students did not get their first selection for a school, and the municipality is presenting them with options for suitable educational institutions. The registration is expected to be completed in August 15, 2011."

A Ynet inquiry revealed that even after the agreement was reached, two girls who were slated to begin studying this year have yet to be admitted. The same applies for 20 students who were scheduled to begin studying more than a year and a half ago.

The municipality insists that "the registration for this school year has been 100% completed. It was a special achievement pointing to hard and thorough work…

"According to the Haredi Education Administration figures, there are three girls who have not been studying for two years now. These are girls with a very complicated and grave background. Our activities in this matter are ongoing."

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