Must-Read Response: At Jewish Schools, Inclusion Should Trump Local Rankings
07/30/2013 - 15:06
Meredith Englander Polsky
Meredith Englander Polsky
Meredith Englander Polsky

Editor's Note: Yesterday, we highlighted a response to regular blogger Meredith Englander Polsky's piece about how she pulled her daughter out of Jewish day school. Click here for the original post and here for the comment; below is Meredith's response to the comment.

Thank you - I appreciate your response. I agree that this school (and probably Jewish Day Schools in general) face a real challenge as pressure grows to be as academically challenging as a Sidwell Friends or a Georgetown Prep. I would argue, though, that a day school's mission, then, needs to be clear. If that's the goal - to attract and retain families who would otherwise choose a Georgetown Prep - then make that explicit. Then parents know what they are choosing, and the school rejects students who will not rise to those academic challenges - probably (statistically speaking) 20 percent of currently enrolled students. (Clearly, this is not something I'm advocating.)

Or, the school can have a very clear mission statement and educational philosophy that reflects its core values and goals, and parents can choose the school with the knowledge of what they are getting. Parents of enrolled children should not dictate the mission of the school (unless the mission is being re-written). Rather, the school must have a thorough understanding of their mission so that when parents demand something different, there is something solid to refer to. A school can choose to be truly inclusive of children who learn differently, or they can bend to the pressure exerted by parents who would choose Georgetown Prep. Why is the latter prioritized over the former?

Having said all that, I will add that none of this has anything to do with why we took our daughter out of the school. While educational mistakes were made, we could have easily forgiven those and we could have all learned a lot from the experience. But the school took an approach that left no room for "learning from mistakes." I have tried hard - in everything I've shared publicly about this - to paint the "bigger picture" and not place blame or vilify one Jewish institution. My daughter is not leaving because of special learning needs, or because she needs the specialized support that a McLean School (for example) can provide. She is leaving because the way things were handled made it impossible for us to trust in the system, or to feel any level of confidence that things might be approached differently in the future.

In any case, I think you've raised really important points in your comments, and I thank you for taking the time to respond.


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My community has a K through 6 day school that our son attended, though not through grade 6. He had special needs that ultimately led to our removing him. He did well in public school and university and is now excelling at graduate studies. What was most painful for us was the attitude of a significant portion of staff and parents. There was no compassion, not even a sense that they were concerned about him and really wanted to help. Instead, there was hostility, to the extent that, if his special needs had suddenly miraculously vanished, I would have pulled him out anyway. Around that time, I met a rabbi, now in California, I believe, who believed that every Jewish child should be able to access a day school education, and it was up to the school to work to find some way to provide this for special needs children. I recognize that it's impossible for any school to be perfect and to do everything, but it's not asking a lot for them to demonstrate some compassion and concern for the child.