The fight for the education of children of asylum seekers in Petah Tikva

At the beginning of 2019, we began receiving inquiries from asylum-seekers in Petah Tikva who were unable to enroll their children in kindergarten and first grade classes. Investigation of the issue revealed that the Petah Tikva municipality was intentionally creating numerous bureaucratic difficulties for asylum-seeking parents, in order to delay or prevent the registration of their children in schools.

In other words, we found that the municipality is violating the Compulsory Education Law, which states that every child in Israel deserves the right to education, regardless of status or origin, and that discrimination against students in the education system is prohibited.

On July 9, 2019, the parents of 135 children petitioned the district court, in conjunction with ASSAF. The petition was filed through the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Clinic for Law and Educational Policy at the University of Haifa. In the petition, we demanded that the court order the Petah Tikva Municipality to immediately enroll the children of asylum seekers and immigrants living in the city in its educational institutions for the 2020 school year, and to order the Ministry of Education to exercise its powers to ensure the successful registration, absorption and integration of all children living in the municipality. In addition, we demanded that any registration policy for educational institutions that are based on skin color, nationality, origin, or race be declared discriminatory and prohibited, and the prohibition of separate kindergartens or educational frameworks for children of asylum seekers and foreigners.

In July 2019, following the court order, the Petah Tikva Municipality announced that it would register these children in the educational institutions in accordance with their registration areas, and would inform the parents about their placements within two weeks. In practice, the municipality continued to delay the enrollment of many of these children and even harassed the families by demanding home visits and photographing their homes.

In mid-September 2019, more than two weeks after the start of the school year, more than 60 children of asylum seekers had still not been placed in kindergartens in Petah Tikva – in violation of the law, contrary to court rulings, and despite requests from the Ministry of Education. That same month, a petition of contempt of court was filed against the Petah Tikva Municipality and then-Mayor Rami Greenberg. The court granted the request, ordering the municipality to register the children without delay.

The Petah Tikva Municipality eventually did accept these children into the city’s educational frameworks, but most of them were placed in separate kindergartens for migrants and asylum seekers, and were not integrated into kindergartens with Israeli children. In May 2020, our legal defense and support center received complaints from parents that the placement of children in kindergartens in Petah Tikva was being delayed again. In July 2020, we petitioned the court again, with parents of 242 children of asylum seekers from Petah Tikva, and in conjunction with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. This petition alleges that the municipality deliberately postpones the registration of asylum-seekers’ children until the kindergartens in their registration areas are filled, so that it can implement its policy of separating asylum-seekers’ children from Israeli children in municipal kindergartens.

In November 2020, following the petition, the Petah Tikva Municipality pledged that starting in the 2021-2022 school year, it will allow asylum seekers to enroll their children in kindergartens and schools without delays, via the normal procedure, like Israeli residents of the city.