School transportation for children from 20 villages in Naqab (Negev) region ground to sudden halt after regional council blames Israeli Education Ministry for failing to transfer funds.

Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel filed an urgent court petition Tuesday, 11 February 2020, as 2,200 preschool children from 20 Bedouin villages have been stuck at home for a month due to a budget dispute between the Israeli Education Ministry and a regional council in the country’s Naqab (Negev) region.

The petition, submitted by Adalah Attorney Aiah Haj Odeh on behalf of parents with affected children and the Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages in the Naqab (RCUV), was filed in Be’er Sheva District Court against the Neve Midbar Regional Council and the Israeli Education Ministry. The petitioners demand Israeli authorities immediately resume the school bus service that was halted a month ago.

On 12 January 2020, the Neve Midbar Regional Council suddenly announced that bussing for three and four-year-old preschool children from 20 villages (four recognized and 16 unrecognized villages) would be discontinued the following day because the Israeli Education Ministry had failed to transfer the necessary funds.

Despite Adalah’s repeated appeals to the Education Ministry and the Neve Midbar Regional Council, the school bus service has not yet been renewed.

In its series of letters to the authorities, Adalah stressed that failing to facilitate school bussing constitutes a serious and disproportionate violation of the right to education.

CLICK HERE to read Adalah’s letter from 14 January 2020 [Hebrew]

The Education Ministry failed to respond to Adalah’s inquiries, and the Neve Midbar Regional Council reiterated only that the bus service was halted due to the Education Ministry’s failure to transfer the necessary budget.

Despite a 1984 amendment to the Compulsory Education Law (1949) to provide free and mandatory education for children from age three –– and a 2012 directive that by 2016 this law must be implemented to include all children, a Knesset report indicates that 4,718 Bedouin children between the ages of three and five did not attend preschools or kindergartens during the 2017-2018 academic year.

The school bussing program in the Neve Midbar Regional Council served as a solution for authorities to comply with the Compulsory Education Law, since most of the 20 villages in question have no schools at all. The school buses served preschool children studying at distances of up to 20 kilometers from their homes.

Adalah Attorney Aiah Haj Odeh commented on the urgent situation:

“In general, Israel fails to adequately address the educational needs of Bedouin children. Now it is failing to even fulfill its obligations under the Compulsory Education Law. It is difficult to imagine this situation but for the fact that these children are part of the Arab Bedouin community that Israeli authorities see as undeserving of state-mandated services. It is infuriating that these children are being cynically exploited in a dispute between state authorities. The law decrees that both the Education Ministry and the Neve Midbar Regional Council share responsibility for the transportation of school children, so we’ve petitioned against both parties to put an end to this scandal.

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