Autistic Children Still Have to Travel 3 Hours to School

Parents of autistic children in the Binyamina area are considering asking the High Court of Justice to order the state to provide suitable education for their children, instead of teaching them in what the parents say are ill-equipped classrooms, or forcing them to spend up to three hours in transit each day.

They say the Education Ministry assured them more than a year ago that their children would be studying in a new school in Givat Ada, near Binyamina, this year. Ministry officials said the municipality has contracted for needed renovations to the new school and that the work will begin within a few days. "We hope that will indeed happen, and that the local council will do all it can to complete the work before September 1," a ministry official said.

But the parents say that were not informed of any change in the situation.

"According to the Education Ministry's promises, this school was supposed to be open already, but three 'temporary' months turned into half a year, and then into nine months, and there is no solution on the horizon," said Shlomi Abermad, the father of one of the children. "The Education Ministry has systematically broken its promises, apparently in violation of the education laws of the State of Israel," Abermad said.

Of the children who were supposed to attend the new school, 15 are studying in two classrooms in a nearby boarding school for children with developmental disabilities. But those rooms are not geared for autistic children, and lack a teacher's aide as well as basics like books and notebooks, parents said. They said they even had to supply toilet paper - a need they discovered after staff members used a curtain to clean one of the children in the first few days after the move. Parents also provided toys and a computer, said Penina Gur, the mother of one of the children.

Another 15 children continue to attend their previous schools, which for some means a 90-minute ride in each direction every day.

The alternatives to the new school were supposed to be temporary solutions, reached after a dispute between the Education Ministry and the head of the Binyamina-Givat Ada Local Council caused a delay in the scheduled opening of the new school. The ministry said it has ordered the council to begin renovations for the new school immediately.

The parents say the director of the Education Ministry's Haifa District, Aharon Zvida, said that essential renovations would begin by March 15, and then postponed the start date to May 15. But nothing has happened yet, and parents fear the new school won't even be ready by the next school year.

"We're sick of the promises of the Education Ministry and the local authority," said Gur. "How much can you abuse autistic children?"

Gur said the conditions of her son's schooling were preventing him from learning anything.

"According to the law, every child is entitled to two hours of individual work a week with a speech therapist," she said. "My son, Or, gets 20 minutes a week in a corner of the room, with the other students around him. Or doesn't get anything out of that, and you can even see that some of the kids are regressing."