Shortage of Classes Keeps Special-ed Haredi Kids From Starting School in Israel

Parents and children demonstrate opposite the Education Ministry in Jerusalem; some parents point accusing finger at Haredi Knesset members.

Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox children with learning disabilities were unable to begin the school year along with their peers on Sunday due to a lack of suitable classes.

Parents and children demonstrated on Sunday opposite the Education Ministry in Jerusalem, and some parents even pointed an accusing finger at Haredi Knesset members.

Unlike the regular state schools, Haredi schools begin on the first of the Hebrew month of Elul, which fell on Sunday. But according to the parents, some 1,000 special-needs children aged six and seven have no suitable class to attend - whether a special class or a regular class with a full-time assistant to help them.

The parents said they discovered this only a few days ago, and in some cases purely by chance, without ever having received any official notification of the problem.

The ministry says Haredi special-ed classes are already full to bursting due to the community's high birth rate, and its budget won't stretch to as many extra places as are needed - even though the special education budget has grown from NIS 2.5 billion in 2009 to NIS 3.5 billion this year.

Yehuda Pinsky, who heads the ministry's Haredi education department, sent a letter to all affected parents at the end of July saying that only children with "severe" disabilities would be placed in special-ed classes, while "children with 'mild' disabilities will be integrated into regular schools."

The ministry deems this an acceptable solution. "The ministry is promoting a policy of integrating students with mild learning disabilities or problems into the regular schools, while offering them wide support," it said. "Integrating these students into regular schools enables them to acquire social and academic skills that will contribute to their personal development."

But the parents, who met with Pinsky yesterday to no avail, said they don't believe their children will be able to function in regular classes.

"All these children attended special kindergartens, because someone diagnosed them as such," said one. "There's no reason why regular schools should absorb them."