Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Special Ed in Israel - Not as smooth as we thought

Ian and I have been quite positive about our experiences here so far. We were interviewed by HaAretz yesterday and had great things to say. However, now it is almost 2:30 AM and I can not sleep over worry that we made a big mistake that our son Yonah will have to pay for in the long run. I hope that I am wrong about this and that in the coming days things will work out.

One of the reasons we made Aliya is that we thought living here in Israel, and particularly on this Kibbutz in the North would be particularly beneficial for our son, Yonah, who was recently diagnosed with PDD (Pervasive Developmental Disorder, on the Autism Spectrum without meeting all the criteria). Yonah has been receiving early intervention services for undifferentiated developmental delays since he was one, but we had not been able to get a clear diagnosis in the states, and the classes being offered to him were for multiply disabled kids, with good services, but nothing directly related to communication disorders. There were no services available to Yonah in a Jewish environment in our part of New Jersey either. (I have noted to many people recently that Yonah is my most religious child and is excited to learn how to read just so that he could learn and read Torah, so staying in the states would have meant a major trade off).

Our past year in Jerusalem was quite good for Yonah. He was in a Gan Tazpit (Diagnostic Gan). We had to fight the beurocracy to get him in (with some help from an educational consultant who was working with us), but it was ultimately a great experience. Yonah had a wonderful teacher and staff and learned alot. More importantly - they put us on the right path to get him diagnosed and get Vaad Hasama aproval for a Kita Tikshoret (communication class for kids on the autism spectrum). It turns out that Israel and the Israeli schools are quite advanced vis-a-vis educational opportunities for kids with PDD and that by law - students classified with PDD must be provided with a special class designed for them. (Typically there are 8 kids max, specially trained teachers and staff, and since the classes are in regular schools, opportunities for mainstreaming in selected subjects as appropriate). The availability of these services reinforced our desire to make aliya.

When we became intersted in Chanaton and moving north, I had repeatedely said that the one thing that would prevent us from coming here is if we can not find a good school for Yonah. I was concerned that it was a more rural area and may not have the same opportunities as Jerusalem. The system of Kitot Tikshoret is supported by a national law, however, and I was reassured that these classes exist throughout the country. I also hit something of a brick wall in trying to identify specific schools or classes before we made a decission to move. People that Nefesh B'Nefesh referred me to about special needs in the North were not particularly knowledgeable about specific schools with Kitot Tikshoret, and when I spoke to the education officials in the Moatza (equivelant of county government), they basically said that they would help - but could not do anything concrete until we had an address in the North. So we took a leap of faith and arranged to find a house and get a lease signed as we were completing Vaad Hasama processes in Jerusalem. We got the lease and also classification by the Vaad Hasama so then the Moatza psychologist and special ed placement staff were available to help.

Unfortunately at this point they informed me that because the Moatza was so sparsley populated they did not have enough kids Yonah's age for a Kitah Tikshoret in any of the Moatza schools (issues of data/chiloni/Tali were not even on the table). so the will find him a placement in a nearby municipality - as they are obligated to do by law. OK - I could live with that - they would arrange transportation and it would not be that far anyway. First they mentioned a school in Tivon that had a great program, but after a week or so they said that the Tivon class had filled up and Yonah was bumped out because kids in Tivon had priority. Then they wanted him to be placed in a Kita Mitkademet (akin to a multiply disabled class without any specific focus on communication disorders). This would be in this Moatza (so easier to secure a placement) in a place not too far called Kfar Yehoshua (rural town with farm animals or something in or near the school so that would be nice for Yonah). I spoke to Yonah's teacher from Gan Tazpit and she said that Kitah Mitlademet is probably too low functioning for Yonah and he would not be likely to get the specific supports that he needs, so she suggested I insist on Yonah's rights for a Kita Tikshoret. The placement official at the Moatza then suggested either a class in Karmiel (to our North) or outside of Haifa in Kiryat Bialik (both about a 25 to 30 minute drive). In the end they detrmined that Kiryat Bialik was the place and that they had a spot for Yonah.

They needed to send final reports to Kiryat Bialik but all seemed in order. The week before we left for New Jersey (end of July) they asked for a follow up letter (to correct an error) from the Vaad HAsama in Jerusalem, which we got and my understanding was that the placement was on track. When we got back to Israel - I got back in touch with the Moatza to find out who to speak to in Kiryat Bialik so that I could arrange a visit for Yonah before school starts and get supply lists and meet the teachers, etc... and then I was told by the placement coordinator that he was still waiting for a final aproval. I am not sure what he was doing for the last month (or why it took this long to get a placement when they knew about Yonah as early as last April) but suddenly he was busy making calls and then today he tells us that in fact, Kiryat Bialik has decided to reject Yonah because it says in his final report from the school that he had been working with his teacher on some potty training issues (and made considerable progress). The placement coordinator sounded skeptical that this was the real reason.

Regardless - we are starting over again from the drawing board. Ron (placement guy from the Moatza) will make calls to schools in Haifa and Acco. Ian and I have been reaching out to Nefesh B Nefesh education people and other special ed support contacts, and we are also remobilizing folks with connections to Leo Beack - in an efffort to get him into that school (a great place that was booked up by the time I learned about them and applied - but where we would love for Yonah to be able to learn). (More on Leo Beack in another post I hope - - but for now, a kibbutz member who works there and was also assigned to us as our partner family to help with Klita spoke with the principal who said that he would love to help but they are full and they promised other families not to increase class sizes (part of why they are so popular I suspect) so unless someone drops out at the last minute - they can not help. I understand that - but argh!)

Bottom line - Less than a week before the start of school and we are starting over from scratch - again. Other familes are buying books and supplies and school shirts to get their kids ready for school. Other first graders are getting geared up for their new adventures, and we are gearing up to fight beurocracy to get a placement for Yonah that by rights he is entitled to. Most people are sleeping and I am awake and frustrated and very worried about my beautiful, kind, little boy.For the first time since we decided to make Aliya I am seriously wondering if we made a huge mistake. (I imagine most Olim wonder about this at some point - but this is little solace at he moment).

OK - now that I got this all out - I need to get some sleep so that I can fight this fight more energetically tomorrow (but if any readers have suggestions - they will be welcome!). I will try to add more details (and correct my grammar) when I am more awake some time tomorrow.

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