Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel

The Struggle for the Education of Children of Asylum Seekers in Petah Tikva (2019-2020)

In 2019 ASSAF, together with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and the Clinic for Law and Education Policy at the University of Haifa, has embarked on a struggle to enable the access of children of asylum seekers to municipal schools and pre-schools in Petah Tikva, a town in central Israel.

The Petah Tikva Municipality has expressed on several occasions its objection to the presence of asylum seekers, and applied discriminative policies towards children of asylum seekers there. Early in 2019 the municipality began to make it increasingly difficult for asylum-seeking parents to register their children to schools and pre-schools, in order to delay or prevent their children from enrolling. However, according to Israeli law, education is compulsary to all childern over the age of three and discrimination between students is prohibited. 

In July  2019, the parents of 135 children, together with ASSAF,  petitioned the district court. The petition was filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Clinic for Law and Education Policy at the University of Haifa.

The main demands of the petition were that the court order the municipality to enroll  the children of asylum seekers and other immigrant residents in the education system, and also order the Ministry of Education to exercise its powers to ensure the proper registration, absorption and successful integration of children in municipal institutions. In the petition we demanded that the court will rule against the discrimnative policies of the municipality, and prohibit any kind of discrimination and separation of students according to skin color, nationality or status. 

Following a court order, the municipality announced that it would enroll the children in the educational institutions according to their registration areas, and would notify the parents about  the placements within two weeks. Nevertheless, the municipality did not change its ways. Two months following the hearing it continued to delay the registration of many children, and even began to  demand entry into the families’ homes and photograph them, supposedly to ensure that they were indeed living in town. This intrusive act rightfully offended many parents.

In mid-September 2019, more than two weeks after the beginning of the school year, 63 children from families of asylum seekers and migrants were yet to be placed in pre-schools in Petah Tikva. This was against the law, against the court ruling from July and despite inquiries on the matter from the Ministry of Education. Therefore, in September 2019, the petitioners filed a motion for contempt of court against the Petah Tikva Municipality and Mayor Rami Greenberg. In October, the court accepted the appeal and ordered the municipality to enroll the children without delay, clarifying that for each day that passes without progress, it will have to pay a fine of NIS 40,000.

Problems arising in the school year of 2019-2020

Following the legal proceedings, the children of asylum seekers were enrolled into the city's education institutions, but most of them were placed in separate pre-schools for immigrants and asylum seekers, instead of integrated pre-schools with Israeli children. Furthermore, during May 2020, asylum seeking parents in Petah Tikva began to complain that although they enrolled their children properly and on time, the approvals were pending for too long. It appeared that the municipality was postponing the placement of the children in some pre-schools where they were supposed to go according to their residency address, waiting until there was no capacity there; it waited till those pre-schools were already full  so it could place the children of asylum seekers in institutions separate from those attended by the Israeli children.

We, together with the other petitioners, then requested that the court demands that the municipality and the Ministry of Education immediately integrate children of migrants and asylum seekers  in the municipal preschools, in accordance with the law. Since this petition was not answered, another petition was filed in July 2020. In the petition against the municipality and the Ministry of Education, the lawyers represented the parents of 242 children, as well as ASSAF organization and the Association for Civil Rights.

In November 2020, following the petition, the Petah Tikva Municipality signed a compromise agreement with the petitioners. In the agreement, the municipality undertook that starting in the 2020/21 school year, it will allow asylum seeker residents to enroll their children in pre-schools and schools without interruption, according to the proper procedure, similar to Israeli residents.

The joint legal struggle of ASSAF, asylum seekers community, the Association for Civil Rights and the Clinic for Law and Education Policy - has succeeded. ASSAF will continue to monitor the implementation of the municipality's commitment, and other developments in Petah Tikva’s education policy, for the sake of the parents and their children.