A group of 35 autistic children began their school year under difficult conditions - without assistants to their teachers or toilet paper, which teachers and parents had to provide themselves - following a dispute between the Education Ministry and the head of the Binyamina-Givat Ada local authority, Uri Distnick, over plans for a specialized school for autistic teenagers. The parents of the children plan to boycott studies in protest.
An Education Ministry spokesperson said that in the coming months they will hire assistants for the teachers, but not on a permanent basis.
The youngsters are currently studying at a makeshift school in a few rooms at a nearby hostel for mentally handicapped children. Most of the children live in Kibbutz Ein Shemer, at the Beit Ekstein hostel which operates a chain of institutions for children with special needs, but because the plans for the school failed, they established the makeshift school at nearby Kfar Li.
Orit Tzur, mother of Zvika who is a student at the school, visited the makeshift school Thursday and said that the "school" comprises two small rooms, and a teachers' room that was transformed into a classroom. "Kfar Li gave basic cleaning materials and toilet paper, but those ran out very quickly," she says. "The parents brought toilet paper and soap from home. They didn't even have a mop, in case there was a need to wipe the floor."
According to Education Ministry standards, classrooms for eight autistic children must have one teacher and at least one assistant. Because of the dispute with the local authority, the teachers also have to care for the students' physical needs.
Tzur says that on Thursday the air conditioners in two of the rooms malfunctioned, and the "sweaty children were gathered in a single room."
One of the difficulties for autistic children is that they are unable to function well in large groups. A single child's discomfort may affect the rest of the children.
"All the children were placed in a room whose size is 35 square meters," Tzur says. "There is no equipment, no books or notebooks, and there is no staff to work with them individually. The children shouted and screamed, and there was no one to help them. At some point they locked the door, simply because there was no one who could run after them in the yard. Two-three hours passed before the children, locked up in the room, were allowed in the yard. It was abusive."
"The children are in a temporary structure which is very crowded," says another parent. "The shortage in professional staff means no more than day-care center conditions. Why should the teachers have to bring toys from home?"
Rachel Zigdon-Lex from Beit Ekstein says that the children were not locked in, but confirms that the conditions are "not ideal" and the solution offered is "limited."
"At this time we can not say when these children, who are entitled by law to learn in school, will be able to do so," she added.
Education Ministry sources maintain that they met all the conditions of the local council, and say they transferred NIS 500,000 for work on the school building. The ministry also says that NIS 1.5 million has been allotted for opening the school, and a commitment has been made to raise more funds.
However, they were unwilling to commit to covering any deficit that might occur in the school's budget in the future, describing this condition as "unrealistic."
"I agreed to the proposal to open a school for autistic children out of Zionist ideology and contribution to the nation, but to date there has been no confirmation from the Education Ministry on the work that needs to be done to the school. All other promises have remained at the level of words," Distnik said in response.
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