And Rav said to Rabbi Shmuel Bar Shilat (a well-known teacher of children during the Talmud period), “A student who knows how to read should read in class with his classmates, and those who do not know how to read should remain in the class in the company of their classmates.” (Talmud, Bava Batra 21a)
HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
Schools increasingly need to be aware of a growing range of conditions and challenges that students confront. These challenges present school leaders with numerous considerations at various levels: funding, admissions, staffing, curriculum, health care and more. This pioneering issue serves as a roadmap for leaders as they navigate this complex terrain.
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In 1989, I experienced a major shift in my thinking about educational practices for serving students with special educational needs. As the special education administrator in a Boston-area public school system, I thought existing practice, that included separate educational settings for some students, was “best practice.”
The “Mrs. Christensen” calls usually started like this: “Mrs. Christensen, this is Jacob’s religious school teacher and I wanted to talk to you about his behavior…lack of attention…homework situation.”
Children with autism are so varied that an ordinary person meeting two or more of them might be puzzled that their conditions fall under the same name. This is why child mental health professionals have settled on the term “autism spectrum disorders,” or “ASDs,” to describe this heterogeneous group.
Jewish camp works as an educational experience. What can schools learn from camps? This mantra echoes across many conversations, from kiddush after shul to board of education meetings to thoughtful conversation among educators looking for fresh ideas and models of educational success to refresh and renew areas of practice.
It is estimated that between 14% and 18% of school-age children in the United States today have some form of learning disability, the majority mild to moderate. Getting the most appropriate and supportive education for the special needs child is a top priority for their families.
Eleven years ago, the challenges faced by special needs students in Jewish day schools were nothing short of daunting. It was an era when many children with special needs either struggled to say afloat, were accepted only to be “counseled out” later, or were considered “simply not day school material.” Parents who insisted on day school for their children soon discovered that the schools often did not have the special education resources required to meet the needs of students struggling to learn basic skills and also support their teachers to facilitate classroom learning for a variety of learners. In addition, services they could access at their local public school were disconnected from the classroom experience. Frustrations abounded for the teachers, the parents and most of all the children themselves.
Fourteen years ago, while working at an overnight Jewish summer camp, I (Dori) met a boy named Josh. Josh was 8 years old and struggled with learning disabilities and attention issues that impacted his interactions with other people. Although he loved camp and tried hard to fit in, Josh was asked to leave eight days after he arrived. Months later, I called a friend of mine who was a teacher at the Jewish day school Josh attended. When I asked my friend how Josh was doing, he responded that he didn’t know: Josh had been asked to leave the school. Where would Josh’s committed Jewish family turn next? Would they even remain a committed Jewish family?
Funding for special needs programs in Jewish day schools is challenging on two fronts. It is difficult enough to provide quality education for a dual curriculum at an affordable price, but, it is that much more expensive and difficult to educate children with special needs with appropriate resources. It is also our duty and obligation to do so; as Gandhi stated, “Society is judged by the way it takes care of its most vulnerable members.” If we are to infuse Jewish values throughout our schools and extended community, we need our schools to be accessible in every way: open and affordable, to all types of learners.
Is inclusion a legal “right” in Jewish day schools? According to IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), students with disabilities have a right to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Local public schools districts have an obligation to test students with special needs enrolled in a public school and develop an IEP (individual educational plan) to be implemented in the public school classroom. Parents who choose to leave the public school arena and enroll in a Jewish day school cannot expect the day school to follow through on the IEP. There is no legal basis for a day school to implement any recommendations written on an IEP. There might be, however, some exceptions. A student placed in a day school by the local school district can have an IEP implemented in that setting by the school district, or IEP services might be provided on the premises of the local public school with the parents usually responsible for bringing the child there at the time provided to access these services.
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