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Palestinian Parents, Schools Clash Over Private School Fees

Families demand discounted tuition for virus closure, schools call demand excessive, both blame the PA Education Ministry

A group of Palestinians whose children attend private kindergartens and schools are at loggerheads with the Private Schools Association in the West Bank, demanding a 60% refund on tuition for the spring semester and saying their children did not benefit from the remote learning conducted during the lockdown imposed to fight the novel coronavirus.

Schools and universities in the Palestinian Authority have been shuttered since March 5, when the first cases of COVID-19 were identified in the West Bank. To stem the spread of the virus, private and public establishments moved office work and communications to remote methods requiring no physical contact.

Ashraf Melhem, the spokesperson of the Palestinian parents’ group, told The Media Line that the contracts they signed for their children with the private schools were conditioned on face-to-face education. “Since March, we have been committed as parents to the government decision. However, this state of emergency affected the social and economic situation of the Palestinians, and we are part of that community,” he said.

Melhem explained that as a group, they asked the private schools to stand by the parents during this crisis and return 60% of the second-semester tuition payments. However, the schools rejected the request outright, saying they had fixed expenses and financial commitments, “despite the fact that they didn’t have expenses. No usage of water or electricity, no buses, and in addition there were no after-school activities,” he continued.

He characterized the justifications provided by the private schools as “weak.”

Melhem added that the PA Education Ministry should have deployed development plans and strategies suitable for the unique situation of the Palestinians, saying it was a mistake to simply copy other countries’ measures.

“The remote education that was suggested by the ministry doesn’t work here in Palestine, as parents can’t really provide a laptop or iPad for each kid, given the tight financial situation. In addition, we don’t have stable electricity or internet service, and our educational personnel aren’t suitable for remote education. It will not work here; we’re used to face-to-face education!” he said.

Palestinian wireless providers have been trying for several years to move beyond 3G mobile technology and have objected to Israel’s control of frequencies and telecom infrastructure, to no avail thus far. And the electricity supply is sometimes interrupted because of unpaid debts to the Israel Electric Corporation.

Melhem accused the Education Ministry of bias in favor of the private schools, where it was supposed to protect all students. “We approached it with our demands and we had one discussion with the ministry, which claimed that it had no control over the private schools. After that, we were surprised that the ministry had met with the Private Schools Association without letting us know, and we reject that,” he said.

When contacted by The Media Line, the Education Ministry spokesperson said they had nothing to add to what Minister Marwan Awartani said at a press conference on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Awartani told reporters in Ramallah that the new school semester would begin on September 6. He added that teaching would be face-to-face but “we will move to remote education if the situation becomes worse because of COVID-19. Face-to-face education will be in two shifts from 8 in the morning until 2 in the afternoon, and from the first to the fourth grades.”

The plan for grades five and up was not clarified.

Ziad Ayesh, the head of the Private Schools Association in Ramallah and al-Bireh, told The Media Line, “As of now, the ministry’s vision regarding the new semester remains completely unclear. We don’t really understand whether it will be a face-to-face education or remote education.”

Ayesh explained that the association was upset with the Education Ministry, as it was failing to stand by the private schools even though it was aware of their financial commitments and needs. “We have prepared a full crew of teachers and we have contracts with them for a whole year, and the ministry is supposed to be our protector,” he said.

Since March, the students had lost 29 school days from the second semester, Ayesh said. “We worked for a third of March, and April was spent making up for March, and May was exams. Therefore, the 60% refund demanded by the parents makes no sense to us.”

Nevertheless, Ayesh said that all private schools had provided discounts to parents based on their financial situations. “We don’t really know how legal or legitimate this parents’ movement is, as every now and then we have to deal with a new group of parents representing the students. I personally have five kids in private schools, and I never asked this group to represent me,” he continued.

Ayesh added that the association obligated every school to refrain from charging for any expenses that students did not benefit from because of the closure, such as fees for buses and after-school activities.

“Anyway, each school is obligated to consider the situations of parents and provide discounts accordingly. Some schools provide parents with 100% tuition exemptions,” he said.

“The parents are demanding a 60% discount for what exactly? The schools taught their children fully in January and February,” Ayesh said.