In­clu­sive ed­u­ca­tion in cri­sis?

A re­form be­ing pushed by the Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry could force par­ents to put spe­cial-needs chil­dren back into spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - • By ILANIT CHERNICK

‘It’s about giv­ing our chil­dren the chance to be equal, be con­tribut­ing and func­tion­ing mem­bers of so­ci­ety like ev­ery­one else,” said Gaby, a Jerusalem mother of a child with Down syn­drome. Her eight-year-old Hal­lel is fin­ish­ing first grade. For her and many other fam­i­lies, in­clu­sive ed­u­ca­tion is im­por­tant.

But the sit­u­a­tion could change sig­nif­i­cantly. The Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry plans to in­sti­tute a re­form that will change the cri­te­ria for chil­dren to re­ceive spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion ser­vices if they choose in­clu­sion in the reg­u­lar school sys­tem. Thou­sands of chil­dren with spe­cial needs who are able to thrive in a reg­u­lar class­room with sup­port will be left in the lurch if this re­form goes through. Most will be forced back into the sep­a­rate ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

“With the sup­port she gets, Hal­lel can now read and write at the same level as the other first graders in her class,” Gaby told The Jerusalem Post Mag­a­zine. “The thought of her be­ing put into a spe­cial-needs school for no other rea­son than that they [the main­stream school] won’t be al­lo­cated the sup­port she needs makes me feel nau­seous.”

The Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry pro­vides an aide who sup­ports her daugh­ter 24 to 30 hours a week and Gaby pays for all the ex­tra ther­a­pies needed. “Her won­der­ful school also fills in with other things out of good­will,” she said, adding that this will change if the re­form is to go through. The min­istry is say­ing that the par­ent will have the le­gal right to choose to send a child to spe­cial ed or be main­streamed, but it’s not a choice if one op­tion comes with the sup­port ser­vices your child needs and the other op­tion doesn’t.

“They’re also rais­ing the cri­te­ria for el­i­gi­bil­ity for sup­port ser­vices – bas­ing it on how “high func­tion­ing” the child is. My daugh­ter is read­ing and writ­ing and func­tion­ing per­fectly in the class she’s in be­cause of the help she has. Take the help away, she’s not go­ing to func­tion any­more. It’s like say­ing, ‘I gave you glasses, you can see now, so I’m go­ing to take them away from you.’

“The cri­te­ria must be what you need, not how high func­tion­ing you are, be­cause it’s the sup­port that makes you able to func­tion.It’s about giv­ing our chil­dren the op­por­tu­nity to suc­ceed in a nor­ma­tive en­vi­ron­ment and con­trib­ute to it,” Gaby added.

There are about 245,000 pupils with spe­cial needs – about 11% of pupils – in the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem. How­ever, only 8% of chil­dren who qual­ify for spe­cial-needs ed­u­ca­tional ser­vices are con­sid­ered com­plex cases, such as chil­dren with chro­mo­so­mal dis­or­ders, autism or cere­bral palsy.

Many par­ents feel the re­form is mainly about money and pol­i­tics. Some say the sys­tem is go­ing 20 years back­ward in­stead of for­ward.

Par­ents, teach­ers and or­ga­ni­za­tions rep­re­sent­ing the dis­abled and spe­cial-needs com­mu­nity are fight­ing the Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry, try­ing to stop the re­form, which has passed the first read­ing at the Knes­set. The

sec­ond and third read­ing and vote are im­mi­nent.

Dur­ing the Knes­set Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tee dis­cus­sions with Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry rep­re­sen­ta­tives, par­ents, teach­ers, school prin­ci­pals and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from a coali­tion of over 30 NGOs in­clud­ing Bizchut, The Hu­man Rights Cen­ter for Peo­ple with Dis­abil­i­ties and Bey­achad, Em­pow­er­ing In­clu­sion in Is­rael, have been ar­gu­ing against the re­form.

Par­ents say that th­ese or­ga­ni­za­tions have con­tin­u­ally fought for in­clu­sive ed­u­ca­tion in Is­rael against all odds. “Many chil­dren with spe­cial needs would still be stuck in spe­cial ed with­out them.”

SEV­ERAL TEACH­ERS told the Mag­a­zine that this re­form would ad­versely af­fect schools tak­ing in chil­dren with spe­cial needs and that there were not enough re­sources and ad­di­tional sup­port as it is.

“We’ll have 23 chil­dren in a class and one child with spe­cial needs. That child will not have proper sup­port. It will be our job to take care of them and give them ex­tra at­ten­tion at the ex­pense of the other chil­dren. This re­form will stop in­clu­sive ed­u­ca­tion al­to­gether. It’s un­fair,” one teacher said.

Rivka, who has sev­eral chil­dren with learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties and spe­cial needs, said her big­gest con­cern is that the Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry doesn’t give enough sup­port as it. “They don’t give us enough hours [with the aide]. They con­stantly fight us over what the aide needs to do. If it goes through I will have to pull my son out of main­stream ed­u­ca­tion.”

Rivka said that the min­istry is de­cid­ing “that chil­dren that are highly func­tional will get their ex­tra help from a ‘sal statisti.’ They send a cer­tain amount of money to each school and the school de­cides who gets the ex­tra help. As of now, they de­cided that 5.4% of chil­dren [in main­stream] should be get­ting ex­tra help, but re­ally 8% need it. They’re go­ing to add the highly func­tional spe­cial-ed stu­dents to get their ex­tra help from that money, so many kids with spe­cial needs won’t get the help they need. We’ll end up putting our kids into spe­cial-needs schools and be forced to take them out of the com­mu­nity.”

The sys­tem hasn’t been work­ing well, Rivka says. “They have to can­cel the spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion law and the reg­u­lar ed­u­ca­tion law and cre­ate a law that in­cludes ev­ery­thing, that makes the sys­tem of ed­u­ca­tion all one. They have to make the classes smaller in­stead of build­ing a lot of spe­cial-ed class­rooms, put 15 chil­dren in a class­room – es­pe­cially if you need to main­stream the chil­dren [with spe­cial needs] – and hire more staff.

“Chil­dren cre­ate friend­ships from be­ing to­gether no mat­ter what. Chil­dren who don’t learn to­gether, even when they’re “nor­mal,” have a hard time cre­at­ing friend­ships in the com­mu­nity,” Rivka ex­plained. “[Nor­mal] chil­dren need to learn how to be­have and re­act with chil­dren with spe­cial needs.”

If this re­form goes through, “I will have to move my child into spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion by the mid­dle of next year… it makes me sick. I’m very wor­ried.”

Ni­cole, whose seven-year-old son Daniel has Down syn­drome, sees no need for re­form.

“A law called Dorner was passed, but it doesn’t seem to be im­ple­mented. I don’t feel that the kids are get­ting all that they’re sup­posed to get, as they would if they were in spe­cial ed. Cer­tain ser­vices and money are sup­posed to go with the child [with spe­cial needs] wher­ever they are, whether in spe­cial ed or in reg­u­lar ed­u­ca­tion. Sud­denly, I felt all on my own – we re­al­ized there were no af­ter­noon pro­grams or ther­a­pies on site. I had to quit my job so that I can pick up my son and bring him to ther­apy and then bring him back to kinder­garten. Ev­ery­thing was on our shoul­ders in­stead of the ser­vices be­ing pro­vided by the min­istry.”

At the mo­ment, Ni­cole’s son gets only 30 hours with an aid and can­not be at kinder­garten with­out one.

“This means he can’t stay at kinder­garten the whole day and can’t go on Fri­days. With the re­form they are go­ing to base the aide’s hours on abil­ity, but he needs an aide [at school] all the time – not just be­cause he has a dis­abil­ity and to make sure he doesn’t run away, but to help him with his school­work. As it is, he can’t get the max­i­mum amount of school time be­cause the ap­proved hours for an aide don’t even cover the school day.

“I have no idea how this re­form is go­ing to af­fect us go­ing for­ward. If it gets any harder than it al­ready is, ob­vi­ously we’re go­ing to have to give up, quit and go back to spe­cial ed or just go back to Amer­ica be­cause it prob­a­bly runs a lit­tle bet­ter there,” Ni­cole ex­plained. “We’re run­ning out of re­sources. We’re exhausted and stretched to the max.”

Nada, a mother from east Jerusalem whose son also has Down syn­drome, said the Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry needs “to be­lieve in our kids, stop treat­ing them like they don’t mat­ter. They need to fo­cus on mak­ing in­clu­sion avail­able and bet­ter, more suit­able for our kids. They need to treat our kids equally. With­out in­clu­sion, our kids would be to­tally lost.

“Our kids have no fu­ture or hope. They de­serve to be equally in­cluded. They de­serve a chance to shine in their own way at their own pace. They shouldn’t have to be put in spe­cial schools away from the nor­mal sur­round­ings. Kids like ours learn only from the nor­ma­tive at­mo­sphere around them.”

She added that she had tried both main­stream­ing and spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion with her son. “I found that he gained a lot from reg­u­lar in­clu­sion but re­gressed when he went to a spe­cial ed school. That’s when I pulled him out.”

A Mus­lim whose main­streamed eight-year-old son has autism spec­trum dis­or­der shares ap­pre­hen­sions with Rivka, Gaby, Nada and Ni­cole.

“This fight is one way of unit­ing us all. Maybe this will bring peace,” she said, laugh­ing. “The ‘league of na­tions’ [Jews, Chris­tians and Mus­lims] has come to­gether to stop this re­form. It can­not be al­lowed to go through. It’s an in­jus­tice to all the chil­dren – spe­cial-needs and main­streamed – if money and pol­i­tics take prece­dence over the ed­u­ca­tion of our chil­dren,” she said.

“My son de­serves the same chance as other chil­dren to have a nor­mal life. I want him to work and to make so­ci­ety bet­ter. For him to rely on money from the gov­ern­ment and do noth­ing with his life is not an op­tion,” she said.

THE ED­U­CA­TION Min­istry told the Mag­a­zine that this re­form, part of the “broad process of strength­en­ing spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion, is a dra­matic im­prove­ment of spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion ser­vices to in­crease the in­te­gra­tion of pupils in reg­u­lar ed­u­ca­tion and ex­pand free­dom of choice for par­ents.

“The new out­line, for­mu­lated in the spirit of the rec­om­men­da­tions of the Dorner Com­mit­tee [The Dorner Com­mis­sion to Ex­am­ine Spe­cial Ed­u­ca­tion] and work­ing to­gether with all rel­e­vant par­ties, is de­signed to en­hance free­dom of choice and im­prove the en­tire sys­tem of ed­u­ca­tion ser­vices en­joyed by spe­cial-ed­u­ca­tion pupils, in­clud­ing ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions near their place of res­i­dence. It in­cludes a sig­nif­i­cant bud­get in­crease of a bil­lion shekels for con­struc­tion of more than 1,000 class­rooms over four years. An­other NIS 300 mil­lion a year will be al­lo­cated for paramed­i­cal treat­ments, train­ing and sup­port of teach­ers, cre­at­ing ther­apy spa­ces, fol­lowed by trans­porta­tion, bud­get man­agers for the pur­chase of hours of treat­ment and reg­u­lat­ing role of co­or­di­na­tor of in­te­gra­tion.”

The min­istry in­sisted that the par­ents will choose the type of frame­work; el­i­gi­bil­ity will be de­pen­dent on the level of func­tion­ing and per­sonal needs; and that there would be a full range of ser­vices, de­pend­ing on the ex­act needs.

The Min­istry said that sev­eral is­sues in the sys­tem led to the need for a re­form. “There are not enough spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion frame­works, so many needs are ad­dressed within the pri­vate sec­tor. Fam­i­lies are spend­ing too many hours on the road [get­ting to ther­a­pies out­side of school]. The re­source al­lo­ca­tion is also di­vided be­tween too many, which has led to in­ef­fi­cien­cies in the cur­rent frame­work.”

Avivit Aharonoff, Bizchut ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment di­rec­tor, said that fewer chil­dren are be­com­ing el­i­gi­ble for spe­cial-needs ser­vices and there­fore be­ing forced into main­stream ed­u­ca­tion with­out sup­port.

“That fails the chil­dren and over­loads the sys­tem. The Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry’s aim to trans­fer chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties that are con­sid­ered less chal­leng­ing to the reg­u­lar ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem is ex­cel­lent,” she said. “The prob­lem is that they aren’t pro­vid­ing th­ese kids with the sup­port they need in the reg­u­lar class­room; that’s not the in­clu­sion they say they are cham­pi­oning.”

Whether the re­form will go through re­mains to be seen, but for now, th­ese par­ents and their chil­dren re­main in limbo and 20 years of achieve­ment in pass­ing leg­is­la­tion that pro­motes in­clu­sion seems to be un­rav­el­ing be­fore their eyes.

(Pho­tos: Courtesy Hal­lel’s par­ents)

HAL­LEL, EIGHT, who has Down syn­drome and is part of the in­clu­sive ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, reads a ‘pa­suk’ on Purim.

HAP­PILY POS­ING with her friends, Hal­lel (sec­ond from left) is com­plet­ing first grade at a main­stream school in Jerusalem’s Old City de­spite her dis­abil­i­ties.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Israel

© PressReader. All rights reserved.