Disabled children to attend kindergarten with peers
Education Ministry funds aides; move comes after years of parental, rights group pressure.
Down syndrome children Photo: Reuters
Hundreds of children with disabilities aged between three and five will be able
to start kindergarten on August 27 just like their peers, thanks to a decision
finally reached Wednesday by the Education Ministry.
According to the
decision – which was made by the ministry’s director general Dalit Stuber after
years of pressure from parents, disabled rights groups and politicians –
children with certain disabilities and medical problems who want to join
government- run kindergartens at the age of three will be eligible under
specific criteria for a personal aide starting this upcoming academic
“This is excellent news, even if it is coming a few years too
late,” commented Oren Ganor, spokesman for the disabled rights organization
Ganor said that the new decision would be welcome news for
hundreds of parents of children with disabilities who hope to send their
children to regular kindergartens together with assistance from a medical
“We have been trying to get this changed for many years, it has
always been a problem for many children about to start kindergarten at that
age,” he said, adding that the change will also allow children with diabetes and
other medical needs to join the mainstream school system at a young age like
other able-bodied children.
A statement from a joint Education and
Finance Ministries committee said that the solution would address the needs of
some 160 three-and four-year-olds, who are eligible to receive free education
this coming school year.
Previously, the ministries had refused to set
aside NIS 6 million for each of the children to have an aide accompany them in
school, saying that the law instated free education, but did not require three
and four year olds to go to school.
A medical committee comprised of
representatives from the Education and Health Ministries will determine whether
each child requires an aide in the week and a half before the 2012-2013 school
Despite this, Wednesday’s notification was met with cautious
optimism by Misgav resident Gali Aniv-Turgeman, whose three-year-old daughter
Neta suffers from Neurofibromatosis.
“Neta has been attending
kindergarten for the past year and a half.
Apart from needing to be fed
through a special tube every two hours, she is able to function like any other
child her age,” said Aniv-Turgeman.
She explained that until the age of
three, Neta had been eligible for an aide from the Welfare and Social Services
Ministry but that afterwards it was the responsibility of the Education Ministry
to approve funding for a school-based helper.
However, when Aniv-Turgeman
approached the Education Ministry last March, she was told that because school
is not mandatory before the age of five, there is no official budget to provide
her with assistance.
Aniv-Turgeman said she was still skeptical about the
decision. “I still have not been able to verify the small print of this
decision,” she said, highlighting that in the past her daughter’s kindergarten
teacher, along with the special helper, were given training on how to feed her
and take care of her needs throughout the school day.
“I still do not
know if this change will cover the full school day, or if it will be a few hours
a each day or only a few days a week, and who will cover the costs of training
the helpers,” said Aniv-Turgeman, who was one of several parents that spoke
recently in the Knesset about the issue.
“The Education and Finance
Ministries woke up from their summer coma to find a solution,” MK Ilan Gilon
(Meretz), chairman of the Knesset Caucus for Disabled People said Wednesday. “I
don’t understand why it had to wait for the absolute last minute, while those
children were unsure whether they’d be able to start school with their
Praising Wednesday’s announcement, he emphasized that it is the
government’s basic duty to make sure disabled children can attend regular
schools, and said he hoped that the Education Ministry would continue
encouraging such integration.
On Tuesday, Gilon had called for Education
Minister Gideon Sa’ar to immediately intervene in the matter and demanded that
the Knesset Finance Committee hold a meeting to discuss the lack of funds for
the 160 children.
Soon after, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin backed
Gilon’s request, saying, “A society that does not take care of its children will
turn into helpless adults and does not deserve to be called a
“It is the Knesset and the Finance Committee’s duty to take
care of the basic needs of these special children,” Rivlin stated. “The current
situation is a serious injustice that is taking away the children’s right to an