Girl, 7, forced to spend school day in her underwear; minister orders probe

Student who came in sleeveless dress told to change, but not given pants; ‘my daughter is in shock,’ says mother; girls in several cities protest dress codes as discriminatory

Israeli students and teachers wear protective face masks as they return to school, at Hashalom School in Mevaseret Zion, near Jerusalem, May 17, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative: Israeli students and teachers wear protective face masks as they return to school, at Hashalom School in Mevaseret Zion, near Jerusalem, May 17, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s new education minister on Wednesday ordered an inquiry into an incident the previous day in which a 7-year-old schoolgirl was forced by a teacher to stay in her underwear for hours after coming to class in a sleeveless dress.

The incident in Petah Tikva was widely reported and condemned, as girls in various schools were holding protests Wednesday claiming gender discrimination for not being allowed to come to school in shorts amid an intense heatwave, while boys in similar attire are admitted.

The second-grader arrived Monday morning at her school wearing a sleeveless dress with the school’s emblem on it. A teacher demanded that she change her attire and gave her a T-shirt, but no pants, her friend said in a Facebook post.

She had to stay in her underwear for hours after the teacher allegedly told the class that was how she was sent to school.

The girl’s mother said Wednesday that she had shouted at the teacher when she came to pick up her daughter. “The teacher said it was in accordance with the rules because [the shirt she was given] had sleeves.”

School officials have not answered her repeated calls, the mother said.

“My daughter is in shock, she doesn’t want to go back to school and is refusing to speak about the incident,” she said. “We will have to go to a therapist to speak about it. The boys laughed at her and she cried a lot, it was very unpleasant.”

Absorption Minister Yoav Gallant at an event in Tel Aviv for lone soldiers serving in the Israel Defense Forces, January 24, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Education Minister Yoav Gallant, who entered the position this week, said in a tweet Wednesday that the incident was “serious and infuriating.”

“I have this morning ordered a probe and inquiry that will have its conclusions presented to the ministry’s director general to prevent similar incidents in the future,” Gallant said. “Adhering to moral norms and students’ safety is a guiding principle for the education system.”

The Education Ministry said that while the issue of dress codes is the responsibility of individual schools, the ministry “is saddened by the incident and notes that greater sensitivity could have been exercised. The principal has been contacted and this has been clarified to her.”

Meanwhile, with full studies having resumed this week following a two-month lockdown, and amid an unprecedented heatwave, several schools have been criticized for allowing boys to attend classes in shorts, but not girls.

A group of about 50 girls held a protest in front of their Modiin school Wednesday.

“We’re fed up,” one student, Mor, told Channel 12. “According to the dress code, knee-length shorts are allowed in our school. In practice, boys are allowed in wearing shorter pants. After years of speaking with the management, we have had enough.

“The school closed its doors in our faces, and teachers came to speak to us claiming there is full equality in the school and our actions aren’t dignified,” Mor added. “Even if we assume there is equality, we don’t think this dress code is appropriate during an extreme heatwave.”

The series of blisteringly hot days that began Saturday, with temperatures surpassing 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in many places, was expected to last until Thursday. Meteorologists said it could end up being the longest such event on record in Israel.

Similar demonstrations were held outside schools in Rehovot and Ra’anana.

“Instead of treating us as students, some of us exemplary students, they just look at our clothes,” a student in Rehovot said. “I was sent home once and it was really humiliating.”

The heatwave has prompted the Health Ministry to temporarily nix a requirement for students in grades 4-12 to wear face masks in class.

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