Israeli Ministry Neglects Study Regulations for Sick and Disabled Students, Report Shows

Recent report by Knesset finds that study hours of students enrolled in special program are unregulated and often fall short on requirements ■ Ministry filed draft regulations to Knesset committee in December - 13 years after being asked to do so

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Perah Berkowitz and her son who receives home assistance under the Shlabim program.
Perah Berkowitz and her son who receives home assistance under the Shlabim program. Credit: Moti Milrod

The Education Ministry does not supervise the study hours or assistance that home-schooled students are allotted under the Shlabim program, according to a report issued recently by the Knesset Research and Information Center.

According to the report, the ministry has no documentation on the personal study programs prepared for each pupil, and has never checked whether pupils are getting the hours of help they’re entitled to. Instead the ministry is relying exclusively on the contractor, World Ort Kadima Mada, to which it pays 59 million shekels ($16 million) annually.

>>Read more: Israel underfunds special-ed preschools in ultra-Orthodox communities

Shlabim, which has been operating since 2007 under an outside contracter, provides educational and paramedical services to children who are confined to their homes due to a serious or chronic illness, or to special needs children whose condition doesn’t allow them to attend school.

Children who have been out of school for at least 21 days are eligible for the service. Kadima Mada employs some 600 teachers and medical staff in the program.

This past year 1,800 students and an additional 580 special education students were part of the program. According to Kadima Mada, 12 percent to 15 percent of the children who are entitled to paramedical services through the program have not received all the hours they’re entitled to in recent months, however nearly all children have received the required learning hours.

Parents, however, say their children are not getting all their study hours, while teachers employed by the program complain about their conditions.

According to the Knesset report, over the years these services have been provided without any regulations governing the methods and without any ministry supervision.

In the absence of regulations, there have been numerous irregularities and contradictions between ministry requirements and the conditions the ministry set when it requested bids from service providers.

It was only in December that the ministry submitted draft regulations for operating the program to the Knesset Education Committee for approval – 13 years after being asked to do so. The committee has yet to discuss the issue.

The report’s findings were no surprise to Perah Berkowitz, whose son Tohar receives services from Kadima Mada. “The Education Ministry doesn’t check whether there is proper service and doesn’t check the level of teaching. The child is registered with Kadima Mada and as far as the ministry is concerned, it’s done its job. The Education Ministry must take responsibility for this service and not give it to an external operator.”

Kadima Mada has been running Shlabim since 2014. Despite the complaints, the ministry has extended its contract until August 2019, claiming that switching providers would disrupt the services to the children. The ministry has yet to request new bids for the service, however.

The Education Ministry said: “The special education division monitors the allocation of hours for sick children, and in cases where it finds that sick pupils have not received all the hours they deserve, it works to fill the gap to the degree possible, since the gap stems, among other things, from a lack of paramedical professionals. In addition to the oversight conducted by the special education division, the control and enforcement administration conducts its own audit of how these hours are allocated.”

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