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Forgotten: Many Israeli students still without schools, services

Dozens of Israeli school children classified as “special needs” are still at home around the country awaiting school placement or the much-needed services for which they are eligible including aides, individualized education plans, instruction for their teachers, accessibility and therapists.

While most Israelis are busily preparing for the upcoming holiday and a long school break — 11 days during Sukkot beginning on Wednesday — many parents are instead busy trying to find a school for their children, one month after classes began.

On a Facebook page called “They’ve forgotten us at home,” more than 400 parents have shared their angst at these delays.

Though the exact numbers are disputed — one advocacy group claims dozens of children are awaiting school placement and some 250 are without services at their schools — parents and their advocates have expressed their frustration at the highest levels of government.

Revital Lan Cohen, a lawyer and mother to a child with special needs, speaking at a Knesset committee last month, accused the Ministry of Education of treating inclusion as “trivial.”

“Today is a holiday in Israel, but for children with special needs and their parents this is a difficult day because you have failed to deduce until this day that you need a systematic solution to do inclusion,” she argued. “You continue to treat inclusion as a trivial matter, not worth addressing. You don’t allocate a suitable budget and you don’t treat this as a profession. And this is the reason you are not attracting professionals to this field.”

This delay occurs, without fail, every year for many students with special needs. Cohen’s own child, now in fifth grade, was again unable to start school on Sept. 1 because services weren’t yet in place. Cohen challenged the Ministry of Education as to why personal aides and other services have yet to be approved.

Perhaps worse than not finding a school can be finding the wrong one. Channie Plotnik, who runs Beyachad, an organization that promotes inclusive education in Israel, said a major problem right now is that children are “being placed in schools just so that Misrad HaHinuch (Ministry of Education) can check off that they made a placement.”

“Pretty much they are throwing kids into deep water so that they can drown,” Plotnik told us.

Plotnik is case-managing for several children. Even for those who have been placed, the individualized education plans (IEPs) for these children are still being hammered out and are not expected to be ready before December. She contends that putting children in an environment that is against or not welcoming of integration, and without an IEP and proper instruction for teachers, is a recipe for disaster.

“Do our teachers come into the first day of the classroom without a curriculum and without any knowledge of what they will be teaching this year? No. So why when it comes to kids with special needs, the system feels we can create IEPs and learning programs in December?!” Plotnik questioned. “What happens with a kid who has a staff who does not have a program or plan for him? Behavior problems! Not having a plan from the start is a waste of precious time.”

In fact, emergency sessions to place or get services for students with special needs do not even occur until after Sept. 1, according to Rivka Morowitz who is part of a parents’ coalition of several organizations that represent thousands of students with special needs.

Parents, who are unable to work while their children languish at home without friends, education and therapies, are exasperated.

“Another a week at home. The services that were promised have not arrived. Was someone unable to process the request? The Ministry of Education at its best,” one mother lamented on one Facebook group.

Another mother said that when, yet again, her son was delayed in starting school this year, the person responsible at the municipality used the excuse that it was “too hard” to find him a school.

“When will they understand that inclusion is a profession? It is not a temp’s job. It’s not a student’s job. Inclusion needs guidance and maintenance and it cannot be that this burden falls on the parents!” she said in a Facebook post. “So its Sept. 17 and we’re still not ready for starting this year. Feeling frustrated, upset, angry.”

Cohen sent a new year’s greeting at Rosh Hashanah to the education minister: “Naftali Bennett, we are here to help change the situation, not to butt heads. I’m offering you a real partnership with us parents, not as enemies and not as recipients of services, but as partners for one purpose: The best education for the children of Israel. We are the start of a new year, a period where the heavens are open to hear. Please hear our prayers.”

To read more about the inclusion in Israel and the experiences of one believing family in Israel mainstreaming their child with special needs, see this op-ed, originally published in the Times of Israel.

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N.J. Schiavi is news editor of KNI.

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