Separate, but not too separate, is the rallying cry of Petach Tikva parents who want their sons and daughters divided by gender in state-religious schools, but not before the fourth grade. The objections emerged following an Education Ministry decision to separate children at a younger age in the city's Morasha School, in response to overcrowding.
The Morasha School, known for its academic excellence, has attracted more and more students in recent years. Last year, a peak of 1,200 students signed up to study there. Boys and girls had previously studied in the same classroom up until the third grade and then separated into different classes, though they were still allowed to play together at recess. The Education Ministry decided to separate boys and girls into different classrooms at younger ages in order to reduce class sizes.
Parents are dismayed at the move, saying they prefer their children to learn in mixed classrooms in the early years. At a parents' meeting, parents voted to reduce class sizes by dividing children on the basis of age. However, the Education Ministry decided that the division would be made according to gender.
“The Education Ministry must accept the will of the majority,” a concerned parent said. “We want our children to study together. Our neighborhood is expanding and hundreds of families will move in. If the schools are segregated by gender the neighborhood is likely to turn Haredi (ultra-Orthodox). Schools that are totally gender-segregated attract the Haredi population. Mixed schools attract a variety of people from different religious backgrounds.”
Today, most students in the Morasha school come from traditional (not totally Orthodox) backgrounds and study with students who are Modern Orthodox as well as ultra-Orthodox. Parents claim that the municipal education bureau supports their desire to remain a mixed school, promising parents that their democratic vote would be taken into account.
The Morasha school has had segregation issues in the past, such as when they did not allow area residents of Ethiopian descent to attend the school. The Education Ministry came out against such actions, as they were not willing to tolerate segregation by race.
Education Ministry responds
The Education Ministry issued an official statement in response to the parents’ complaints. “The Education Ministry's religious division examined all the relevant options to provide for proper and adequate expansion of the school. Only one alternative remained after considering all the options that would provide a solution for the entire population, not just one segment within it. Gender separation will preserve the special character of the school and fulfill the vision it has had until today.”
With regard to gender separation at a young age, the Ministry said that it plans to “create uniformity between schools in all areas, including both the classroom and informal environments.”
The Ministry also explained that “The Ministry's religious division advocates and promotes a policy that provides a wide variety of solutions for the diverse student population connected to it ... The division makes every effort to best serve the general population of students in religious public schools and provide each population with the best solution for its needs.”