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The Education Ministry will cease funding special education programs in regular kindergartens for children with special needs. The decision, which applies to three- and four-year-olds, will go into effect in the coming school year, and while the ministry was unable to provide data on the number of children this would affect, parent associations involved put the estimate at hundreds.

The programs at issue involve the integration of three- and four-years-olds into regular kindergarten program with the help of special ed assistants.

Several weeks ago the ministry began informing the parents, who had already registered their children to regular kindergartens, that the program will not be offered next year.

The only exceptions are towns that have implemented the Mandatory Education Law, which stipulates that three and four-year-old children have the right to free education.

Attorney Uri Keidar is planning to file a petition with the Supreme Court on behalf of a number of parent associations so that "hundreds of children, who could learn in a regular educational program with the help of assistants ... will not have to learn in separate special education programs."

"These are very young children who are at a critical stage of development and the potential of integrating and rehabilitating them is particularly high," he adds.

"Every day that passes, that's taken away from them because of the lack of support and assistance, the opportunity to learn in a regular environment, may cause long-term and irreparable damage to their development and to their incorporation in education and life."

In 2003, Keidar won a case before the Supreme Court in a petition he filed on behalf of Yated, an organization that works to advance the needs of children with Down's Syndrome, against the Education Ministry for dragging its feet in implementing of the Special Education Law.

The Education Ministry argues that according to the Special Education Law, integrating children with special needs into regular kindergartens applies to children aged five and over, except for those children living in the roughly 40 towns that fall under the Mandatory Education Law.

The parents also say that the decision not to fund the integration efforts of children in regular programs will cost more to the state because more parents will have to send their children to special education programs, which are more costly.