New Israeli law threatens inclusive education parents fear

Photo: KNI Staff

The Israeli Knesset passed a bill into law last week that many critics fear will severely reduce the rights and support of children with special needs — and possibly be in contravention of international law. 

While everyone agreed that the system was in need of reform, the changes just enacted into law fail to address existing issues that parents and students face. Rather, they create new challenges.

This new law contradicts the Education Ministry’s own expert Dorner Committee Report from 2009 that recommended the government fund inclusion of children with disabilities in the general education system. 

In 2012, Israel also ratified the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and hence is required to ensure the right of children with disabilities to receive the support they need in general education settings. Nations compliant with the law, such as Israel, are prohibited from “decreasing or reallocating funding that interferes with inclusive education.” 

“Yet the … law does just that,” according to an editorial by Arlene Kanter, a Hebrew University law professor, in the Jerusalem Post on July 1. “Not only is Israel ignoring its international legal obligations, it also fails to acknowledge that Israel has the highest number of students in special education of any country with which Israel compares itself.”

“Why are so many countries (other than Israel) working so hard to promote inclusion over segregation? Because inclusion works. It is good for students with and without disabilities,’” Kanter wrote. “Inclusion is also cost effective. OECD countries report that the average cost of educating students with special educational needs in segregated placements is as much as seven to nine times higher than educating them in general classrooms.”

In a protest of the reform bill last week, parents and their children and siblings gathered to make their case against the bill before it passed. 

Abdel Khadder, 13, spoke on behalf of his younger brother who has cerebral palsy. The family lives in Nazareth.

“On one side you teach us to accept and respect others, but on the other hand you are distancing us from people who are different in our society at large and in our classrooms,” he said.

Khadder, directing his remarks to Naftali Bennet, the minister of education, said the law reeks of discrimination against inclusion of children with special needs.

“I watch the news everyday and … I see parents cry. Why? Because tomorrow their child will not be able to learn with us because he will have no help in the classroom,” he said. “And my mother is one of these parents.”

“Mr. Bennet, who did you advise with to come up with this reform? Surely you will tell us you spoke with professionals. But you forgot the most important people of all: You forgot us, the students, and your forgot their parents.” 

Knesset Member Ilan Gilon of Meretz at protest of new education bill (Photo: KNI staff)
Knesset Member Ilan Gilon of Meretz at protest of new education reform bill (Photo: KNI staff)

Several Knesset members, including Yossi Yona of Zionist Union and Ilan Gilon of Meretz, attended the protest.

One of the reasons the Education Ministry sought reform was to reign in the budget assigned to children with learning challenges. Over the past few decades the number of children diagnosed with or suspected of having learning difficulties — from autism to ADHD, dyslexia and sensory processing issues — has skyrocketed putting a financial strain on the system. 

The new law establishes committees that will control the placement of children and decide which children qualify for extra assistance and how much. Then the money will be allotted to the schools. This changes a crucial element of the previous law: Instead of the budget going with the child, it will go to the child’s school to be distributed as the school sees fit. 

Also under the new law, services for students with special needs will be higher in special education schools than in the general education schools for children with special needs included there.

It is exactly this situation that may people feel will cause migration from inclusive education into special education, hence the feeling of discrimination.

“I am a teacher with five kids in the system, trust me I would love to see changes being made. But changes need to be student centered, with less bureaucracy, not more,” Ita Wirzberger wrote in a Times of Israel blog on July 6. “Our inclusion programs need the funding that were passed into law, but not allocated. We need, we should demand, that education reform be forward thinking and transparent, and not knock us back 50 years.”