Ministry Says No to Tiberias Educating Special-needs Student

Family: City hoped to cut transport costs.

The Education Ministry has overturned a decision by the Tiberias municipality to transfer a child with learning and behavioral disabilities from a special-needs school in Afula to one within the city itself. The boy's family said the attempted transfer was a bid to cut transportation costs at the expense of the student's education and wellbeing.

Tests to determine the 12-year-old's level of disability have not been completed, but in recent years he has attended Kramim Ba'emek, a school in Afula that instructs students with minor disabilities. Despite his family's objections, Tiberias city hall chose earlier this year to assign him to a school for students with moderate to severe disabilities.

An internal memorandum circulated at the Union of Local Authorities several months ago indicated that recent years have seen a number of similar instances of local government trying to cut transportation costs by educating students at closer schools that are less suited to their needs. These attempts, the memo said, "have negative implications for services received by students and their parents, and more important, on the quality of education the special-needs student receives."

The boy's mother died when he was 3, and his relationship with his father was limited. After his mother's death he grew up in Tiberias with his grandparents, who are registered as his legal guardians.

Three years ago a state panel charged with determining the needs of special-education students determined that the boy suffers from behavioral and emotional disorders as well as attention and concentration difficulties, and recommended that he be sent to Kramim Ba'emek.

At a follow-up hearing six months ago, the panel changed the boy's classification to "potential for minor disability," a category that has yet to be officially recognized. In July a second state panel tasked with assigning students to special-needs schools determined that he would be sent to Dekalim, a school in Tiberias for students with moderate to severe disabilities.

Miki Levy, the boy's uncle, said he resisted the city's decision, but could do nothing. His nephew, Levy said, "likes going to Kramim Ba'emek, and that's enough for us. It's a supportive place, and his condition has improved there. This child has undergone a number of difficulties. We don't need to add to them by sending him to a new school, one where the students have to deal with problems totally different from his. Apparently the Tiberias municipality thinks all special-education schools are the same," he said.

Following an Haaretz request, the Education Ministry launched an inquiry into the boy's case. The ministry ultimately found that "There was no reason to send the student to a different school," and that he would return to attending school in Afula.

The Tiberias municipality said in a statement, "Dekalim changed its mission two years ago, and now only accepts students with minor to moderate disabilities. After the committees examined the child's data, they found that he suffers from minor disability and therefore decided to send him to Dekalim, a school appropriate for his level of disability."

The city rejected outright the charge that it was trying to save transportation costs by educating the boy in Tiberias.