The Education Ministry announced Sunday that it will cut off government funding for the three Petah Tikva private religious schools which refused to enroll Ethiopian students.
The government funds between 55% and 70% of the schools' budgets. The unusual decision was made after a ministry hearing held for the three headmasters, but the Education Ministry is still looking into the legal aspects of its ruling, ahead of a possible High Court appeal by the schools.
An official ministry statement said that, "The Education Ministry insists all three schools accept the students according to their original placement, as ordered by the City.
"The Ministry has informed the school that it will be willing to significantly aid in their integration. In any case, the ministry will continue to meet the Ethiopian students' needs and integrate them in the school system."
The statement also said that the ministry found it "unacceptable" that Ethiopian pupils had to undergo an interview process prior to enrolment.
Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar spoke of the schools' refusal last week, saying his ministry "will not accept any excuses made to justify what appears to be racism… These schools are obligated to enroll Ethiopian students."
Sunday saw Sa'ar ask Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar to oversee a special program allowing rabbinical supervision of the curriculum, aimed at integrating Ethiopian students in the city's state schools.Only five state-religious schools out of Petah Tikva's 20 religious schools have agreed to enroll Ethiopian students. The others – some religious-Zionism schools, some Orthodox schools and all private institutions – have done their best to avoid it, despite their government funding.
The schools' headmasters issued a joint statement: "The City is responsible for the placement of students in elementary schools and we accepted it. Mayor Yitzhak Ohayon was able to broker a solution which included the majority of educational disciplines in the city and we abide by that solution.
"We regret that some would use their personal agenda to drag the Petah Tikva school system into chaos."
The schools added that they will seek legal action meant to overturn the decision. "We will exhaust every legal option in the matter. We are positive we are right," said the statement, adding that the decision not to enroll the students was pedagogical and does not warrant the revoking of government funding.