J’lem special-ed school on verge of collapse, literally

Niurim High School has structural flaws that pose a safety hazard and inaccessibility and lack of room for 120 special-needs students, parents say.

By MARK REBACZ
March 24, 2010 12:27
3 minute read.
The Niurim high school.

special ed school niurim 58. (photo credit: Mark Rebacz)

The Niurim High School, a religious public school for special-needs children, is in danger of collapsing, says the school’s parents’ committee.

Yigal Yishayahu, whose autistic daughter attends the school, said the parents’ committee met last month with Yoel Lutfi, assistant head of the Jerusalem board of education, who admitted that the school building was in no shape to house students, yet claimed his hands were tied, citing lack of resources.

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A statement made Thursday by Gidi Shmerling of the Jerusalem Municipality Spokesman’s Office said, “The Niruim school is one of the top priorities of the Jerusalem board of education, which is working to find an alternative building that will guarantee accessibility and fulfill all the needs of the students. The Jerusalem Board of Education is in constant communication with the school’s administration and parents in an effort to find a solution to this issue."

According to the parents’ committee, the school building, located in Jerusalem’s German colony, suffers from two main faults: structural flaws that pose a safety hazard, as well as inaccessibility and lack of room for the school’s 120 special-needs students, aged 13-21.

Miriam Avraham, also of the parents’ committee, said Wednesday that the building lacked emergency exits, elevators, a shelter, adequate space for classes and outdoor sports facilities. Additionally, the city engineer has informed the school that in the gymnasium no one is to jump, and that a maximum of 16 people can use the library at a time, for fear of collapse, she said..

According to Avraham, an alternative facility must be found, though not just any location will do.

“These are kids who are capable of independence but need extra support and training to function in the world. Currently, many kids can walk from school to work placements, and a solution must be found so that the school can still be centrally located, enabling the teens to get to school, then to work and back home with reasonable ease,” said Avraham.

She said the school was overcrowded and could not cater to more than 10 new students a year – a situation not nearly adequate for the needs of the Jerusalem-area special education community.

The solutions offered in the past by the board of education were to simply divide classrooms in half to make room for additional classes, recalled Avraham. “But some of these students are 20 and 21 years old, and cannot sit in a cramped room with desks meant for 10-year-olds.”

Besides the board of education, the parents have also been in touch with Ariella Rejwan, education advisor to the mayor; Itzik Tomer, deputy director-general of the Ministry of Education; and numerous councilmen and -women; but to no avail.

Even if an alternative location is found, according to Avraham, if it is not attained in the immediate future, it will not be able to be converted into a sufficient special education facility in time for September.

Avraham was informed last June of a city project to transfer five schools to more acceptable facilities, one of which is the Niurim school. However, as of now, only the other four have been updated, while the Niurim school remains left behind.

“The parents should be involved in the process, and the city should keep its word,” Avraham said.

Avraham stressed: “The more you give these kids an opportunity to live and grow at this point, the more independent they will be later on, and the better level of independence and productivity they will have. But only if they get the support they need and are invested in now, as teenagers.”


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