Police Probing Alleged Abuse at Rishon Letzion Special Needs School

Some 70 children, with varying degrees of autism, attend the school, which employs about 35.

Police are investigating allegations that autistic students at the Shkamim school for children with special needs in Rishon Letzion have been abused and neglected by the school's staff. The complaints, made by several parents, allege that children are pulled by the hair, pushed and verbally abused.

Some 70 children, with varying degrees of autism, attend the school, which has a staff of about 35 employees, including teachers and aides. Most of the complaints relate to the aides, whom some parents allege are not properly supervised.

Last year one of the children suffered burns after an aide bathed him in hot water. Two weeks later, the child's parents were reportedly notified by a school supervisor that the aide had not told the school administration about the incident and then lied about it. She expressed great regret about the matter. Following a hearing, the aide was suspended from her position.

The parents of other children attending the school reportedly have either seen or heard about staff members pulling children's hair and forcefully pushing them. One parent indicated that children had even been slapped. Other parents spoke of hearing the staff swearing at the children. One of the aides reportedly called the children "devils" and overweight students were allegedly humiliated. When children were removed from the classroom for disturbing the class, they were allegedly left unsupervised for extended periods of time.

A source who until recently worked at the school confirmed some of the allegations. "There were times when I told myself that I was imagining things. This couldn't be happening," he said. He confirmed seeing an aide pulling the children by their hair and using force against them. In attempting to subdue a child, the aide reportedly said: "Don't move. Do you want to be hit?"

On the date of the burn incident, the boy involved, aged six and a half at the time, was picked up after school by his mother. She reportedly saw that he had red marks on his head and neck and was crying. She was initially told that the child had hurt himself, but said her suspicions were aroused when she received conflicting accounts as to the circumstances, and at home she said she saw three finger marks on her son. A subsequent medical exam reportedly revealed that the child had suffered second-degree burns.

On the other hand, yesterday a source at the school said, "The parents' statements stem from great personal pain that is not necessarily related to the school or how it is run." With regard to the incident in which the student was burned, the source said it had been an exceptional, one-time occurrence in which a child was burned by accident. When the principal learned about what had happened, she immediately dealt with it, the source said, and added that the other allegations were baseless rumor and slander.

The chairwoman of the parents' committee at the school, Aliza Zamir, said: "As far as I know, there is nothing improper or incorrect at the school. The parent who complained tried to get other parents to join in, without success. All of the complaints were thoroughly investigated."