Parents, teachers protest division of secular school for haredi girls

Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Parents and teachers at a secular public school in Beit Shemesh are protesting the partitioning of half of the building for a haredi Orthodox girls’ school.

A floor for the building was separated for use by the school, called Mishkenot Daat, and city construction workers erected an 8-foot-high wall down the middle of the schoolyard of the School for Languages and Culture.

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Many parents of the secular school kept their children home from school on Monday due to the controversy. Other parents reportedly demonstrated outside the school.

In recent years Beit Shemesh, a city of 80,000 located just north of Jerusalem, has become a flashpoint for conflicts between Israel’s haredi Orthodox community and its secular and modern Orthodox populations. The school is located in the middle of the haredi Orthodox neighborhood of Ramat Beit Shemesh.

The city said the decision to divide the school was due to a shortage of classrooms in haredi Orthodox schools.

The Education Ministry did not give its permission to divide the school, calling the action “illegal” in a statement issued Monday, adding that it was sending a closure order to the girls’ school. The ministry said the Beit Shemesh municipality rejected an offer of an alternative building for the girls’ school.

The Beit Shemesh municipality, led by haredi Orthodox Mayor Moshe Abutbul of the Shas party, released a statement saying, “This was righting a grave wrong, where a school building designed for 500 students stayed mostly empty and was used by only 144 students.”