The story brewing over the last few months regards the character of the state religious schools, known in Hebrew by the acronym MM”D or mamad (not to be confused with safe rooms that use the same acronym and pronunciation). And like so many previous educational struggles involving mamad, this one takes place right here in Petach Tikva.
Amishav started off as a transit camp for North African immigrants on the outskirts of the city. Like so many other maabarot, it remained depressed. Around 20 years ago the city began to develop the neighborhood, now known as Hadar Ganim. The influx of national-religious parents decided to send their children to the local mamad, called Morasha, and thus strengthen a school with a poor reputation. After several building expansions, Morasha has has now outgrown its campus.
The parent body met many times to ease the transition from one school to two. They preferred not to divide the enrollment area, which would create competition between the two schools as one would always be “better.”
They were left with two main options:
- Have one school for boys and one for girls, each with a separate campus.
- Separate into two schools by age. In the campus for grades 1-3, classes would be mixed-gender. Classes in grades 4-6 would be single-sex but meet on the same campus.
The parents voted and decided in favor of the second option. Then Avraham Lifshiftz, head of the state religious system in the education ministry, overruled the decision. This was surprising, since Lifshitz has worked to bring private schools back into the state system and prevent “haredization.”
The alon Matzav Haruach (#147) printed an update on the story last Friday. Lifshitz has claimed that his decision was pedagogical and not political. I don’t know whether the concern was the mixed grades, having to switch schools in the middle, or something else. In light of the uproar over his decision, Lifshitz appointed a committee of five headed by Rabbi Avi Gisser. The committee’s decision will be binding not only on Morasha, but on several other school districts throughout the country involved in similar conflicts. I don’t understand why the same decision is required for each case.
The head of the school’s parents’ committee, Nir Orbach, supports Lifshitz’s decision. He claims that 75% of parents now support separate campuses for boys and girls, having switched their position in light of the “reality.” The second page of the article explains how the lines of the battle are being drawn. The “Forum of the Mamadim” is a group of parents who want to strengthen the state religious school system. A new group, known as “Parents in Favor of Mamadim,” is claiming that the “Forum,” despite having the same goals, is too heavily influenced by “Neemanei Torah ve-Avodaah,” a liberal Orthodox Group. In the meantime, parents in the school who want to keep the boys and girls on the same campus have appealed to the Israeli supreme court (Bagatz).
To outsiders, the whole discussion must seem so pointless. How much does it matter whether boys and girls are together for the first three years, when they will study separately for the next nine? Would parents, satisfied with a school in other areas, leave because their fourth graders are or aren’t on the same campus as the opposite sex?
Many feel that completely separating boys and girls will lead to (greater) social and academic inequality and social problems. Some parents believe the opposite. (I’ve written about single-sex education here.) But the implications of the decision are greater. Presumably the majority of parents will stay in the school, since the private school options require travel outside the neighborhood. The main concern is the potential student body of the coming years. If the first option is chosen, with boys and girls in separate schools, the incoming families are more likely to be on the right of the spectrum. These parents might otherwise have sent to private, more right-wing schools. With the mixed-gender option, more of the “traditional” parents, who might have considered a secular school, will enroll their children. Parents are fickle and perception is everything.
All state religious schools in Petach Tikva currently have boys and girls on the same campus, with some studying in the same classes. Only the private “chardal” schools have single-sex campuses for elementary school.
School starts on September 1, too soon for the committee to make a decision. At any rate, a second campus has not been prepared. Until the decision has been made, whether by the education ministry’s committee or the Supreme Court, two single-sex schools will operate on the existing campus under separate administrations. I’m not sure what will happen with the lower grades, which are currently mixed.
Whatever happens in the end, the goal of keeping the neighborhood unified seems to have failed. The results of this fight are likely to leave a bitter taste in the community for the next several years.