Should Every Disabled Child Get a Jewish Education?

Day Schools and Families Grapple With Costs of Inclusion


By Seth Berkman and Anne Cohen

Published March 17, 2013, issue of March 22, 2013.
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Other successful programs include Keshet in Chicago, Kesher in Miami and OROT in Philadelphia. One school that is able to combine the costs by hosting all the services under one roof is Carmel Academy, a pluralistic day school in Greenwich, Conn. Carmel offers in-house special education services through its Providing Alternative Learning Strategies program, now in its seventh year. The program serves children who have language-based and other learning disabilities, as well as children on the autism spectrum, from kindergarten through eighth grade.

Though the PALS classes are mostly self-contained, kids mainstream throughout the day, both in academic classes and for extracurricular activities.

Fifty of Carmel Academy’s 320 students are enrolled in the PALS program. Bobbie Powers, who serves both as director of educational resources for the entire school and as director of the PALS division, estimated tuition for the core program at $21,000 a year; for PALS students, the cost is more than double that amount.

In Philadelphia, according to OROT’s educational director, Beverly Bernstein, parents pay $8,500 on top of tuitions that already range from $8,500 to $19,000 for OROT’s additional special needs services.

The significant financial burden weighs heavily on the day schools themselves.

“It can be challenging from a cost perspective, a resource perspective and a knowledge perspective,” said Rabbi Yehuda Potok, head of the Gateways partner Striar Hebrew Academy, located in Boston. Most day schools simply can’t afford to build the sort of internal capacity that public schools are legally mandated to construct, he said — and for which they receive federal and state funding.

Michael Held, executive director of the Etta Israel Center, an inclusive day school center in L.A., proposes a radical solution for mitigating the financial burden that agencies like OROT, PALS and Gateways now lay on parents of children with special needs: Socialize the additional cost among all families in the school community.

“If there was a community wide vision that inclusive education is the correct thing to do, then the community of schools as a whole need to embrace that and incorporate the cost in the cost of the school,” Held said.

But should parents whose children do not have special needs have to pay for those costs? “It costs more to the community to have the supports in place,” Mizrahi said. But, she argued, the richness that inclusion provides for the kids who don’t have disabilities is immense.

“The money is there if we choose to make it a priority, and we haven’t,” she said.

Contact Seth Berkman at berkman@forward.com and Anne Cohen at cohen@forward.com


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