Disabled children to attend kindergarten with peers

Education Ministry funds aides; move comes after years of parental, rights group pressure.

Down syndrome children 311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Down syndrome children 311
(photo credit: 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 year.
“This is excellent news, even if it is coming a few years too late,” commented Oren Ganor, spokesman for the disabled rights organization Bizchut.
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 helper.
“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 year begins.
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 peers.”
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 society.”
“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 education.”