Court: Gov't Must Fund Therapy for Kids Too Sick to Go to School

The Education Ministry and local authorities must finance therapy as well as academic instruction for disabled children who cannot attend school for health reasons, the Haifa District Court ruled yesterday.

The court ruled that the plaintiff, a 4-year-old girl from Hadera who has brain damage and a heart defect, along with severe lung disease, visual impairment and developmental delay, is entitled to receive at home the education services allocated by law for children in special education programs.

Judge Yael Willner criticized the education ministers over the past nine years for failing to formulate regulations to implement the education law for sick children.

The plaintiff had been instructed by a specialist to stay at home for fear of infections.

"Does the 'sick child' not need speech therapy, occupational therapy, psychological therapy?" Willner wrote. "Must the child be deprived of these vital treatments only because he is confined to his home?"

She ordered the ministry and Hadera municipality to finance the girl's education and therapy, saying they must do so to comply with the Special Education Law.

The Social Affairs Ministry, which was responsible for her education until she turned three, provided her with the required services as an alternative to a rehabilitative day care center. But the court found that the Education Ministry and the Hadera municipality did not meet their obligations to provide her education after her third birthday.

Adam Fish, who is representing the family pro bono, and Yotam Tolub of Bizchut, a human rights center for people with disabilities, filed an administrative petition against the ministry and the municipality in December.

The Education Ministry told the court that the 2001 law governing education for sick children "does not stipulate that a sick child is entitled to receive at home all the services required by the Special Education Law."

The court found that the education minister has yet to formulate regulations for the implementation of the 2001 law, making it difficult to enforce and enabling the authorities to interpret it in various ways. Thus the Education Ministry interpreted the law in a way that entitles the girl to a curriculum consisting only of instruction hours and study material, not therapy.

But Willner rejected the ministry's arguments, saying there was no dispute that the girl is defined as "having special needs."

"Should the petitioner be denied all the services she is entitled to by the Special Education Law because she is confined to her home?" the judge wrote.