Special-Needs Families Fighting Jewish Day Schools

Painful battles to get their kids placed.

06/09/10
Assistant Managing Editor
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In three years, Jodi and Gavin Samuels may face one of the most difficult decisions of their lives.

Born with Down syndrome, their daughter Caily, now 2, will outgrow the Chabad preschool program she attends on the Upper West Side. That means her parents will have to choose between sending her miles away from home to a Jewish program for children with disabilities, such as one in Teaneck, N.J., or to a public school.

The yeshiva closest to home, Manhattan Day School, where the Samuelses’ two older children attend, has refused to accept — or even interview — Caily, despite high cognitive test scores that her parents have been told make her an excellent candidate for inclusion.

“Chabad has been very warm and embracing,” said Jodi Samuels, a South Africa native who came to America with her husband because they wanted their three children to have a good Jewish education. “They believe in the value that every child deserves a Jewish education. But we have no option after age 5.”

The Samuels family is part of a growing movement of special- needs families who are fed up with having to fight the system of Jewish day schools to ensure that their children get a proper Jewish education.

There are several area special-education programs such as Cahal and Kulanu, both in Cedarhurst, L.I., Yeshiva for Special Students in Kew Gardens Hills, Queens; Sinai School in Teaneck, N.J., and Ivdu in Midwood, Brooklyn that provide a specialized Jewish curriculum. Because of the higher staff-to-child ratio required, tuition at these schools tends to be considerably higher than at typical yeshivas.

Those specialized programs have varying degrees of joint activity with mainstream students in other schools, but critics say yeshivas and day schools have been reluctant to expand inclusion or explore creative new ways of integrating special-needs students.

There is currently no Jewish school that provides a full-time inclusion class in which special needs children can learn alongside their peers while receiving assistance from special education teachers, says Jeff Lichtman, national director of Yachad, the Orthodox Union’s program for special-needs kids. 

Inclusion classes are now available in many public schools.

“Essentially, nobody has it” in Jewish day schools says Lichtman, who estimates that between 5 and 20 percent of children in Jewish day schools have special needs across a wide spectrum.

Manhattan Day School’s roster of students does include those with learning disabilities, many of whom travel from far away to attend the Modern Orthodox institution on the Upper West Side. But the Samuels family says the school draws the line at children with cognitive disabilities.

Rabbi Mordechai Besser, principal of Manhattan Day School, said in an e-mail message that he could not discuss the specifics of Caily Samuels’ case. But he added “MDS takes very seriously its responsibility to serve as a community school, and has long been at the forefront of Modern Orthodox Jewish day schools in accepting children with special needs. In fact, given its relative uniqueness, we currently have students enrolled in our Special Ed program from all five boroughs, as well as Westchester and Long Island.

“However, we cannot accept every student, and [we] evaluate each admission request to determine whether MDS is the appropriate educational setting for that particular child.”

But the Samuelses say their daughter was never interviewed and they were told that an evaluation of her by an outside agency was not even read. They also say Rabbi Besser told them that if Caily is admitted, others with severe disabilities would have to be accepted too.

In a second e-mail to The Jewish Week, Rabbi Besser said, “Without discussing the specifics of this case, when the Admissions Committee receives admission requests and accompanying material, all of this is reviewed in order to determine whether MDS is the appropriate educational setting for a child. If after reviewing the request and all the material the committee concludes that it is not the right setting, then we do not bring the child in for an interview.”

Lichtman cautions that discussing inclusion as a general topic overlooks the reality that special-needs kids have a wide range of abilities and deficits. Some may have a high or above average IQ. “You have to provide for the needs of children individually and collectively,” he said. For example, he notes that while Yachad has a summer camp that has joint activities with other camps, there is still a need for the Hebrew Academy for Special Children’s camp, a self-contained program.

“Not every child, given their own unique needs, can be in an inclusive program,” said Lichtman, who speculated that MDS may be looking further down the road from preschool. “I think they feel they can’t respond to the needs of a child with Down syndrome. I may disagree with that, but it is relatively easy to include kids in preschool, but in my opinion educationally when you move beyond that it gets much more complicated.”

But parents and advocates are calling for more of a communal effort to think outside the box. There have been two panel discussions held in recent weeks, in Riverdale and on the Upper West Side, to call attention to the problem.

At Congregation Shearith Israel on May 24, about 160 people turned out to hear a panel of experts call for more inclusion. Only a small percentage of audience members said they had children with special needs. Most wanted to know what they could do to help. 

Families like the Samuelses worry that they will be forced to give up on a Jewish education. “If my daughter doesn’t have a Jewish education, she is not part of the family in the same way,” said Jodi Samuels, who works in Internet marketing and has started a Facebook group, Caily’s World, to call attention to her battle with MDS. “She has enough challenges in life. Why should she have social challenges as well? The Upper West Side is one of the wealthiest communities. We’re hoping to change the system.”

 

 

 

But not much has changed since the 1990s when Shelley Cohen and her husband, Ruvan, battled to have their son, Nathaniel, whose battle with Duchenne muscular dystrophy required him to use a wheelchair, included in a yeshiva program. Unable to enroll him at MDS, their school of choice, the Cohens sent their son from Manhattan on a 90-minute commute to the Kushner Academy in Livingston, N.J. But doctors insisted such a commute was too stressful for Nathaniel and urged them to find a closer school.

“I spent his entire sixth grade year trying to find a day school here in Manhattan that would accept him and went from pluralistic to Reform and not one school was willing to accept Nathaniel,” said Cohen. “There is learning disability that is associated with Duchenne, but he is not at all a behavior issue. He was one of the most eager-to-learn children you’d meet in a lifetime.”

And the challenges weren’t only at school. “I had to fight to get him into a Jewish camp and to have a ramp at the bima [at Lincoln Square Synagogue] so he can have an aliyah. There are issues always.”

Manhattan Day School ultimately admitted Nathaniel for seventh and eighth grade, and the Cohens were told by a rabbi that he not only had a positive effect on other classmates but on the administration. 

“He ended up being a total asset,” said Cohen. “It is usually the case that a special-needs kid raises the level of the school. Most schools find that it adds to the culture and doesn’t detract and doesn’t make the best and brightest any less best or less bright.”

When Nathaniel, whose condition gradually paralyzed him, died at age 21 in 2007, the Cohens became activists to ensure that other parents wouldn’t have to share their experience. In his memory, they have sponsored a workshop program every year at Yeshiva Chovevei Torah, the Modern Orthodox rabbinical seminary in Riverdale that focuses, on a rotating basis, on the needs of the physically disabled and those of the developmentally disabled. 

“I’m hoping there will be a trickle-down effect, that if [rabbis] are sensitive to what is essentially the weakest link in society, people who have trouble speaking for themselves, we will have a more sensitive Jewish community as a whole,” said Shelley Cohen.

Lichtman of Yachad says the “majority of [special-needs] kids across the country are included in some way, while virtually none were in the past,” but he says kids with serious developmental disabilities like Down syndrome and autism are “typically not included” outside specific programs, some of which are located in mainstream schools.

He stressed that education programs that include shared mainstream activities, such as assemblies, gym, lunch and recess, are as important as shared learning time.

“Inclusion is inclusion,” he said. “Kids are interacting with each other much more at recess and lunch than in the classroom.”

“The Jewish community, in my opinion, should have a broad spectrum of education services developed over time to meet the needs of all Jewish children,” said Lichtman. “But that doesn’t mean every single child should have a fully inclusive education.”

Rabbi Dov Linzer, who with his wife, Devorah Zlochower, has also become an activist for special-needs families, believes that the first step toward inclusion must be to place it more prominently on the communal agenda.

As rosh yeshiva of Chovevei Torah, he wants to ensure that the future rabbis in his charge understand the issues involved.

 “The goal is to sensitize all the students and make them aware of the problems, especially with invisible disabilities,” said Rabbi Linzer, who, with his wife, has two children with special needs. “It’s so easy not to be aware that this exists in the community.” The workshop offered a chance to provide early insights that will shape their approaches to the problem once they assume a pulpit or communal leadership position.

 

 

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05/20/2014 - 15:20

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The way the yeshiva's treat parents who have kids with learning disabilities should be ashamed! it is an absolute abomination! they have no respect for the parent all they care about is the almighty dollar.

I am sorry to be responding so late, but Ms. Samuels seems to use MDS quite a bit in order to publicize her new business venture. Instead of insulting and maligning the school, why don't you just wake up and say,"Thank you for everything you do to me" and commute your daugher to New Jersey. Or are you too busy taking vacations from your kids when you are not engaged in Jdeal? Yes, I have read your blog!
I am addressing this comment to the previous commentator. Your response is foolish. In case you missed it, MDS has a very intergrated special ed program that is one of the best in Jewish education. It does not, however, have a program for dealing with disabilities such as Caily's. This issue is not about tolerance. It is about finding the right school for a particular child. I also do not believe the Samuels' story on what Rabbi Besser said. He is far to smart a man to utter anything so stupid. I also hate to break the news to you, but the ADA does not provide that kind of "protections" you are suggesting. Finally, with respect to your child, here is a news flash, biting in school or out of school is simply not acceptable. I had a child who was bitten multiple times in school and put on antibiotics for several bites. Biting is not cute or funny. If your son's school was not able to curtail you son's biting, then your son was in the wrong school. You seem unwilling to understand the plight of parents of children who were bitten by you son and the burden you place on them. How selfish of you! No, you son is not a demon, but he does not help -- a fact which you seem unwilling to recognize. I truly pray that you have finally gotten your son the help that he so desparately needs and have finally found an appropriate academic environment for him. But stop the ranting about MDS.
I think this quote sums it all up: "They also say Rabbi Besser told them that if Caily is admitted, others with severe disabilities would have to be accepted too. " The school is thinking, if we let one in, we'll have to let them all in! It's that old us vs. them mentality. Disabled children should be kept separate from non-disabled children, so they don't take away so much of the teacher's time or cause too much disruption in everyday life. The sad thing is, the Rabbi probably is not even aware just how prejudiced he really is. I read somewhere else that a group of parents had banded together to keep Caily out. Nice job, parents. Way to teach your kids tolerance, respect, and compassion. I have no more patience for hateful ignoramuses like these parents and the Rabbi in charge of this school. I hope Caily's parents bring a huge ADA lawsuit against this miserable school and force them into bankruptcy. I'm completely disgusted by this whole situation. Oh, and I have a child with Asperger's who was practically thrown out of a JCC preschool for his behavior issues (he would hit and bite when angered) at AGE 2 and I know what it's like to be demonized by a bunch of hypocrites who managed to show up for Shabbat prayers with the kids every Friday afternoon but also taught their kids to tell my son he "wasn't their friend." Walk a mile in the shoes of the parents of a child with special needs before you gang up on them.
I curious what Mr. and Mrs. Samuels plan on doing with their other 2 kids that are in MDS. Do they plan on leaving them there and saying they trust the way MDS educates in general or plan on pulling them out? Maybe no other school would want to take them because of the headache that the parents could cause, let alone the danger they put the school and all the kids in by going on the news!
I would like to say that not only do the Samuels have no logical arguments, but the fact that they are spreading this all over the news is a complete chillul hashem, to make people think jewish communities dont provide schools for those with special needs is completely untrue, there are plenty all within 15-45 min drive from the city. So thank you Mr. and Mrs. Samuels, for making people think bad of jews.

The chillul hashem is that there is no place for the girl in the school.

I would like to believe that the Samuels family would rather send their special needs child to a special needs school, as a special needs school is probably the best option. Why would they want to sell her short of a proper education?! MDS is not equipped to deal with a child like Caily. They have an excellent special ED program, not special NEEDS. I feel bad that she might have to travel a whole 20 minutes each way to get to the proper school, but sometimes you need to sacrifice a small thing for something as important as family and education.
The fact that people are bashing MDS for this is absolutely ridiculous! I have read through all these comments and they are written purly from emotion, without any facts! MDS is known to be one of the best schools for both regular and special ed, they are obviously doing something right. For someone to say that "a rich community like the west side could pay to adapt their schools and programs" is absurd. One cannot even comprehend the amount of money and changes that would have to be done to accomodate the needs. It is very easy to spend somebody else's money. There are many programs which meet Caily's needs, the fact that they are not around the corner is not a good enough reason to exclude them. The fact that MDS is not interviewing her is not a "crime" it is just simply stating the facts: MDS IS NOT A SCHOOL WHICH IS EQUIPT TO HANDLE A D.S. CHILD! Nothing personal, no matter how high her test results are, those are just the facts. The teachers are not trained in this, and the school's curriculum is not meant for this. MDS has done wonders with their regular and special ed students, to blame them for wanting to maintain their education level on all fronts is PLAIN STUPID!
A few questions for the Samuels and the author of this article: 1) "...despite high cognitive test scores that her parents have been told make her an excellent candidate for inclusion." What do they mean by "high?" This is a relative term. And precisely who has told them that Caily is an "excellent candidate for inclusion?" At age two, how would they know? 2) "That means her parents will have to choose between sending her miles away from home to a Jewish program for children with disabilities, such as one in Teaneck, N.J., or to a public school." I am wondering how that author and/or the Samuels measure distance. I would suggest that you both consult with Google Maps. Teaneck is 10.8 miles or 17 minutes from their home. the 17 minutes is probably a correct estimate because Caily would be doing reverse commuting. Even if we generously bump that up to 30 minutes, that does not seem an unreasonable amount of time for a child to commute. Many children commute far longer distances to school. I guess the question is why are you portraying the Teaneck option as one that places such a large burden on the family? Could it be that what the Samuels want is merely the ultimate in convenience? Maybe they just can't have it. 3) "...Manhattan Day School’s roster of students does include those with learning disabilities, many of whom travel from far away to attend the Modern Orthodox institution on the Upper West Side. But the Samuels family says the school draws the line at children with cognitive disabilities." MDS has not published any literature that states what its admissions standards are. Therefore, where did the Samuels obtain this information on the current disabilities of MDS's roster of special needs students? I cannot believe that MDS provided them with this information because they have not stated it in the past. Further, MDS would risk running a cropper of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act ("FERPA") if they did provide this kind of information. Is this pure conjecture on the part of the Samuels, the publication of which repesents a distinct lack of research on the part of the author? The fact here is that special needs students at MDS are not made to feel as though they are handicapped in anyway. Rather, they just have their classes in different classrooms. In point of fact, their curriculum is the same as on the general education side of the house. It is clearly a difficult balancing act for MDS to give the special needs children the supports they need while ensuring that these children feel every bit as much a part of the school as their colleagues in the mainstream program. At MDS, there really isn't discussion about special needs or special ed. A student might, for example, simply have his math in Room 302 (a special ed room) and may have his reading in 402 (a general ed room). The school works very hard to teach individuals and not have unpleasant distinctions between special ed and mainstream students be part of the environment. These distinctions are counterproductive and can have a seriously detrimental impact on the self-esteem and self confidence of special ed students. Perhaps, more than anything I abhor the fact that the Samuels think it is appropriate to raise this distinction in many public fora. I have a bit of news for the Samuels, chidlren read. I would hate to have to shield a special ed son or daughter of mine from reading "The Jewish Week" because they would become aware of their special ed status at MDS. How selfish the Samuels are!
I have been a shadow to a DS kid for 7 years and he is now in university. Yes university and he is not alone. There are others with DS that attend university. This is only possible because these people were given the best opportunity. The research is clear that high functioning children in inclusion environments perform significantly above their peers in special needs schools. What astounds me though is the assumtion that she has low IQ when she was never interviewed or acessed. The only people who are selfish and displaying entitlement are the biggoted community that want a perfect world. I agree with the other comments. SHAME ON YOU MDS AND SHAME ON YOUR COMMUNITY
I have read this article and the comments several times through and find that the Samuels' issues are a bit of stuff and nonsense, perhaps a better word is ridiculous. In the first place, they have chosen to bash MDS because it is the most convenient Jewish school based on where they live and the fact that their older children attend there. It would clearly be most convenient if they could have all three of their children in the same school. Sadly, life does not always dish out convenience. In fact, the Samuels could bash other schools such as Ramaz and Heschel which are also in Manhattan and incidentally do far less in the area of Special Education. But Mrs. Samuel's is a veritable expert in marketing. She knows that MDS does not have a high school to which Caily's older siblings might be applying some day. Mrs. Samuels does not want to take the risk of creating bad blood between herself and yeshivot with high schools. So, she bashes MDS because it is convenient and low risk. I consider it an absolute act of chesed that Rabbi Besser allows her other two children to attend given the nastiness that that Samuels have spewed about MDS, a school that in fact has a robust special education program. Finally, MDS does not actually have an inclusion program. They do not have mainstream classes co-taught by general education and special education teachers. The Samuels are asking MDS to effectively develop an entirely new classroom structure based on there daughter's needs. While the commenters (not the article) claim that the Samuels are willing to pay for all of the extra costs associated with Caily's education at MDS, this is sadly stuff and nonsense. The Samuels cannot begin to comprehend and tally the costs that MDS would need to incur from specialized training for all who deal with Cailly as well as a special ed teacher in each of her classrooms. What the Samuels probably are willing to do is apply to New York State for funding for Caily's education. Unfortunately, within the context of making such a claim, the Samuel's would need to demonstrate, among other things, that MDS is the appropriate academic setting for Caily. Given that she would be the only Downs child in the school, this would be a nearly impossible sell. I will conclude by saying that I find that accusation that the MDS admissions committee did not review Caily's evaluation insulting. I consider Rabbi Besser and the rest of the MDS administrative staff to be honorable and forthright individuals. Accusations of unethical behavior or conduct based on mere heresay should not be published in The Jewish Week. Admissions processes happen, by design, behind closed doors in every school. The Samuel's claim that Caily's application was not thoroughly reviewed is without basis. In addition, the Samuels claim that Rabbi Besser indicated that if Caily were admitted he would have to admit other students like her. Somehow, both the article and the Samuels construe this as unfair or bad. On the contrary, I would hope that the MDS adminstration gives thoughtful consideration to any expansion of their special education program. Did the Samuels expect MDS to make an accomodation and develop an entire program just for their daughter only? Once again, a theme that has emerged is the Samuels' raw and overly large sense of entitlement -- entitlement to having a neighborhood school expand its academic program just to accomodate the Samuel's child so that the Samuel's do not have to commute their child to a school that might be some distance from their home. I would advise the Samuels to take the funding that they were going to use to augment the additional costs of educating Caily at MDS and put this money towards a car and driver to take Caily to a school that can give her all of the supports she needs. We all know that these schools exist, just not walking distance to their home. Stop trying to turn MDS into something that it is not. Furthermore, if the Samuels' truly consider Rabbi Besser and the administration at MDS to be unethical in their conduct vis a vis the admissions process, they should not be sending their older children there. A prerequisite for choosing a school for one's child should be that the adminstration and teachers set examples of proper midot and values. I believe that the folks at MDS do just that.
Two Weeks ago my son Eitan - celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in Los Angeles, Like many other children Eitan read the maftir and the haftorah and said all the brachot - he received a standing ovation in shul and anyone who was present will tell you it was the most memorable shabbat in Bnai David. Eitan has Down Syndrome and has just completed the sixth grade at Maimonides academy in Los Angeles and has been fully included since preschool at Maimonides. His grade is know as "the best grade in the school" and many would credit the fact that they have grown up side by side with Eitan a the cause. Thanks to the help of the Etta Israel Center and Dr. Michael Held (www.etta.org) who began an Full Inclusion program about 16 years ago throughout the los angeles jewish day school system - about 15 - students in LA have been able to be fully included in our day school system throughout the city, several of whom have graduated high school and gone to spend a year in seminary already. Parents are financially responsible for the extra support the students need and the schools have not been asked to incur any additional costs for these children. This is not a model that will work for every child or family. Full inclusion requires a good working partnership between parents and the school and a child who is willing to work hard to meet the expectations set for him or her. The cost of additional support can be prohibitive and in certain states there is no additional funding available if your child does not attend the public school system. If you make the choice to put your child in full inclusion in private school than you may incur the cost for an aide and any additional therapies that may have otherwise be provided by the public school system. That being said - My child is growing up amongst his piers, has true love of torah, is not segregated and is learning both english and hebrew skills successfully - to the best of his ability. He has grown into a responsible young man who dovens three times a day, plays on a regular baseball team and this summer will be going to sleepaway camp for the first time. He has never been segregated or put in a mainstream program he has always been "FULLY" included and we have made the necessary accomodations and set expectations that work for him within his classroom environment. I dont think any parent or professional in the school will say he has held other children back in any way, on the contrary he has added to the school. We have been fortunate to live in a community where he is embraced and supported. I know that Eitan has been a gift to those around him and I would be happy to share our knowledge and experience with those at Manhattan Day School. However inclusion is a partnership amongst a team of educators, specialists and parents - although Cailys parents may want her to be at MDS perhaps it is time to evaluate if this is the right school for their family. I don't see how is would be possible to move forward into a good working partnership together after all the negative PR about MDS has been generated. This could only lead to a challenging relationship going forward and at this point may not be in Cailys or her siblings best interest. Perhaps Cailys situation will open the eyes to the rest of the schools in NY. Someone need to call Cailys parents to say we would love to have your family in our school and we look forward to watch her grow-up to be a young jewish woman that we will be proud of. Down Syndrome is only a description of the genetic makeup of an individual it does not come with a gage of where your child is limited to succeed, evidence has shown that inclusion does help children with Down Syndrome to have greater success that those who did not have the opportunity to be fully included. Why not give all of our children to be responsible jewish men and women who have an understanding and pride in their religion and heritage. Many children have disabilities that are not identifiable and have far greater learning disabilities and behavioral issues than children with Down Syndrome. So give Caily a chance. Don't judge her by the way she looks give her the opportunity to learn and take it day by day as you do with all students. I would bet that she will surpass the expectations that she is given. You will find an article in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles - jewishjournal.com this week written by David Suissa which mentions Eitans Bar Mitzvah and this coming week Rav Yosef Kanefskys speech from the shabbat of Eitans Bar Mitzvah will be published in the jewish journal as well. I have no doubt that my son and Caily will have many challenges ahead of them - but I know that the support of our community has enabled my son to be as successful as he is!! So if MDS cannot open their doors than maybe it is time to look to a more welcoming environment who is willing to rise the challenge and be a part of Cailys team. Guaranteed whoever gets her as their student will get he better end of the deal!
As I read the article regarding the Samuels and their quest to get a yeshiva education for their child it was hard not to juxtapose this with the constant streams of articles we see on a more constant basis about the day school tuition crisis and to a lesser degree about the sense of entitlement prevalent in the younger generation of Jews of all backgrounds. Reading the article one has very clear and real feeling of sadness for the plight of this family, however nowhere in the article does it discuss the potential burden that educating that student (or group of students) might ultimately put on our already burdened system. Trying to seemingly put the blame on MDS, a school that itself has programs for learning disabled students, which attracts and accepts students from far and wide, is ridiculous. They need to draw a line as all schools do, many choose to draw it to the exclusion of many kids that MDS clearly accepts. While the article highlights communities that have programs that might be of service to their child, what this one sided article also doesn’t ask is why this family chooses to remain in Manhattan. As many of us ex-New Yorkers can tell you there are numerous reasons why we left Manhattan, not always willingly, cost of living, space, day school tuition much lower in the suburbs, etc.. This couple left South Africa for their own reasons, now that they have a real reason to leave Manhattan, highlighting their troubles and maybe their sense of entitlement through public forums such as the Jewish Week and their web site is disingenuous and I think unfair to an already burdened community. The answer may simply be stop thinking of yourselves and move to a community that has the programs in place that you need.
There is no such thing as a school being "set up for Downs" or "designed for Downs." Each child with Down Syndrome is a unique individual, with his or her own strengths and weaknesses. If MDS met Caily, assessed her strengths and needs, and thoughtfully determined that MDS was not a good fit for her (even with the Samuels family paying for an aide), so be it. But MDS refused to meet Caily. That is the problem -- not giving Caily any chance at all, not even an assessment. Many Jewish schools have put aside their fears and preconceptions about Down Syndrome, carefully considered applicants with DS as individuals, and admitted them. Current studies show that inclusion benefits all learners in the class, that there isn't "dumbing down" and that typical kids don't get shortchanged. Our daughter, now 13, has Down Syndrome. She has been fully included in Jewish dayschools since age 3 and has been very successful academically and socially. There would be many more like her if Jewish schools would just give these children a chance!
Two Weeks ago my son Eitan - celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in Los Angeles, Like many other children Eitan read the maftir and the haftorah and said all the brachot - he received a standing ovation in shul and anyone who was present will tell you it was the most memorable shabbat in Bnai David. Eitan has Down Syndrome and has just completed the sixth grade at Maimonides academy in Los Angeles and has been fully included since preschool at Maimonides. His grade is know as "the best grade in the school" and many would credit the fact that they have grown up side by side with Eitan a the cause. Thanks to the help of the Etta Israel Center and Dr. Michael Held (www.etta.org) who began an Full Inclusion program about 16 years ago throughout the los angeles jewish day school system - about 15 - students in LA have been able to be fully included in our day school system throughout the city, several of whom have graduated high school and gone to spend a year in seminary already. Parents are financially responsible for the extra support the students need and the schools have not been asked to incur any additional costs for these children. This is not a model that will work for every child or family. Full inclusion requires a good working partnership between parents and the school and a child who is willing to work hard to meet the expectations set for him or her. The cost of additional support can be prohibitive and in certain states there is no additional funding available if your child does not attend the public school system. If you make the choice to put your child in full inclusion in private school than you may incur the cost for an aide and any additional therapies that may have otherwise be provided by the public school system. That being said - My child is growing up amongst his piers, has true love of torah, is not segregated and is learning both english and hebrew skills successfully - to the best of his ability. He has grown into a responsible young man who dovens three times a day, plays on a regular baseball team and this summer will be going to sleepaway camp for the first time. He has never been segregated or put in a mainstream program he has always been "FULLY" included and we have made the necessary accomodations and set expectations that work for him within his classroom environment. I dont think any parent or professional in the school will say he has held other children back in any way, on the contrary he has added to the school. We have been fortunate to live in a community where he is embraced and supported. I know that Eitan has been a gift to those around him and I would be happy to share our knowledge and experience with those at Manhattan Day School. However inclusion is a partnership amongst a team of educators, specialists and parents - although Cailys parents may want her to be at MDS perhaps it is time to evaluate if this is the right school for their family. I don't see how is would be possible to move forward into a good working partnership together after all the negative PR about MDS has been generated. This could only lead to a challenging relationship going forward and at this point may not be in Cailys or her siblings best interest. Perhaps Cailys situation will open the eyes to the rest of the schools in NY. Someone need to call Cailys parents to say we would love to have your family in our school and we look forward to watch her grow-up to be a young jewish woman that we will be proud of. Down Syndrome is only a description of the genetic makeup of an individual it does not come with a gage of where your child is limited to succeed, evidence has shown that inclusion does help children with Down Syndrome to have greater success that those who did not have the opportunity to be fully included. Why not give all of our children to be responsible jewish men and women who have an understanding and pride in their religion and heritage. Many children have disabilities that are not identifiable and have far greater learning disabilities and behavioral issues than children with Down Syndrome. So give Caily a chance. Don't judge her by the way she looks give her the opportunity to learn and take it day by day as you do with all students. I would bet that she will surpass the expectations that she is given. You will find an article in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles - jewishjournal.com this week written by David Suissa which mentions Eitans Bar Mitzvah and this coming week Rav Yosef Kanefskys speech from the shabbat of Eitans Bar Mitzvah will be published in the jewish journal as well. I have no doubt that my son and Caily will have many challenges ahead of them - but I know that the support of our community has enabled my son to be as successful as he is!! So if MDS cannot open their doors than maybe it is time to look to a more welcoming environment who is willing to rise the challenge and be a part of Cailys team. Guaranteed whoever gets her as their student will get he better end of the deal!
You probably will not get many posts like this and I think it is somewhat intended to stir discussion. As I read the article regarding the Samuels and their quest to get a yeshiva education for their child, with a great sense of sadness for their struggle, it was hard not to juxtapose this with the constant streams of articles we see on a more constant basis about the day school tuition crisis and to a lesser degree about the sense of entitlement prevalent in the younger generation of Jews of all backgrounds. Reading the article one has very clear and real feeling of sadness for the plight of this family, however nowhere on the article does it discuss the potential burden that educating that student (or group of students) might ultimately put on our already burdened system. Trying to seemingly put the blame on MDS, a school that itself has programs for learning disabled students, which attracts and accepts students from far and wide, is ridiculous. They need to draw a line as all schools do, many choose to draw it to the exclusion of many kids that MDS clearly accepts. While the article highlights communities that have programs that might be of service to their child, what this one sided article also doesn’t ask is why this family chooses to remain in Manhattan. As many of us ex-New Yorkers can tell you there are numerous reasons why we left Manhattan, not always willingly, cost of living, space, day school tuition much lower in the suburbs, etc.. This couple left South Africa for their own reasons, now that they have a real reason to leave Manhattan, highlighting their troubles and maybe their sense of entitlement through public forums such as the Jewish Week and their web site is disingenuous and I think unfair to an already burdened community. The answer may simply be stop thinking of yourselves and move to a community that has the programs in place that you need.
It is very easy to judge, but much more difficult to learn about what is involved and whether what is being asked for makes sense. In a perfect world we could educate every child together, but this isn't even possible for those without "special needs." I am a special ed teacher who teaches children with learning disabilities who can succeed in the regular class, but needs specialized instruction for a period a day in one or more of the basic skill areas of reading/writing or math. Such children require extra support from the teacher when they are in the regular classroom. At the same time, this teacher needs to provide accommodations for children with ADHD and differing cognitive abilities from low average to gifted. This is quite a challenge. Where I teach we do this by ability grouping for math and reading/language arts. Our low groups are usually made up of children with mild learning disabilities and children with more limited cognitive abilities who need to be taught in a less abstract fashion with more direct instruction, more guided practice, and more concrete terminology and examples. The highest group needs to be challenged because of their high level of abstract reasoning, without this they could quickly grow bored and turned off to learning. Then there are the middle level groups of children who tend to have more average intellectual abilities. Balancing the needs of these three groups of children, including their different needs, emotionally, behaviorally, etc. is quite a challenge and often seems close to impossible to do well. A child with Down Syndrome could successfully be included in a kindergarten or first grade class, but after that the child will need instruction made much more concrete than is done in a regular class. We have wonderful special ed teachers who know how to teach such children whoe IQ's are in the retarded range which means that they will struggle with understanding abstract concepts, making inferences or understanding the figurative language which is used throughout conversations in the classroom and even in the playground as children get older. Sadly, children with low average IQ struggle in a Jewish Day School which provides extra challenges due to the dual curriculum. Often such children become anxious, depressed and/or develop self-esteem issues, so the regular classroom teachers need to make sure to "include" such children in instruction and discussions. To expect that these teachers can also meet the needs of Downs children is asking the impossible. Downs children typically have IQ's in the retarded range. Just because a child with Down Syndrome is said to be high cognitively, one has to ask compared to whom? It is most probably compared to other children with this disability. As a special educator of umpteen years, I feel it is kindest to help parents to understand what is and isn't educationally sound for their children. My daughter goes to a day camp where there is a girl with Down Syndrome who is included in her group each year. The first year when they were 7, it was not a big deal. They all just helped this child and she somewhat fit in. After that it is more and more glaringly apparent that this girl's parents are doing her a terrible injustice by having her attend this camp. The other girls have come to treat her like a pet. They help her to dress, they talk to her like she is a little child, and they don't expect her to follow the rules they must. When they play softball, this girl demands to be on whichever side is up at bat and so she switches teams during each inning. She doesn't stand in any line, but goes to the front, and the counselors just let her. They have enough to contend with the various girls' personalities, and it isn't worth it to them, to get down to the cognitive level of this child and teach her all day long the social rules that all the other girls have internalized years ago. What this child needs is to be at a camp with children who are truly her peer group based on her abilities, and thus be taught about waiting her turn, standing in line, and making a friend. Children of average to higher intelligence love making jokes and these jokes and their typical social conversations actually involve lots of inferencing. By definition someone with an IQ in the retarded range doesn't understand at that level of thinking. Doesn't she deserve to be with children who think at her level and make the kind of jokes she does understand and enjoy? In such an environment she would be able to make true friends, rather than be the patronized "baby" of the camp group as she is each summer in the regular camp she attends.
I read the comments of anonymous of sat june 12th. caily has a syndrome - it is called down syndrome. not sure what this writer means by 'establishing schools for children with downs.' not sure that anyone would do that - not sure what that is! children with down syndrome usually have a cognitive disfunction. caily's IQ does not seem to be as low as the average child with down syndrome. she might therefore fit in very well with the special education program at MDS. my feeling is that she might be higher functioning than many of the chidren in that program and would do well in the regular classroom. whether the school can cope with caily or not, whether they can cope with her supposed cognitive dysfunction or not - we might never know. one of the main points of this whole issue appears that MDS won't agree to give her an interview!!! they refuse to meet her - they don't even know what she can offer them - they are assuming that they will be the ones landed with a low functioning child with Down syndrome and this, by the sounds of things, they are not equipped to deal with at all. i think a huge frustration of the samuels family is that MDS won't agree to see this child. down syndrome covers a huge range of abilities and disabilities - this needs to be made very clear.
I am embarrased of my community. The Samuels are not alone in their struggle and it is not good enough for our wealthy community to outsource these kids to Brookyn etc and other programs. We pick and chose our halacha. I was at the special needs forum and Richard Bernstein the blind lawyer was very frank when he reminded us that the commuynity care about kashrut and eruv but forget some other mitzvot that we are equally commanded to observe.
The bottom line is that the world is not perfect, yeshiva tuition is already close to unaffordable and the Samuels family does have alternatives. They are pushing a school that feels ill equipped to address this child's needs and the School judgment should be respected. Adding children like Caily, to MDS, when there are alternatives will simply make MDS tuition now at over 20,000 dollars per year even more unaffordable. Not everything is pleasant but thats the reality. Particularly given the Samuels' alternatives, they need to give it a rest.
Clearly you have a phobia about your child being exposed to people with special needs. If an inclusion program is set up properly it will not affect the tuition costs of MDS any more than the next typical child in the school will. I agree the Samuels should go elsewhere as MDS is clearly not a school that will welcome their family and MDS does not deserve the gift of having a special child in their school. How dare you infer that having a child with a developmental disability will cause tuition to skyrocket, you sound no different than people who point to the jews as the cause of all the problems in the world. Shame on you!!!!
Which ones?
I am shocked by the criticisms layed upon MDS in this article. MDS has one of the best Special Education programs in any Jewish school and clearly supports special education. However, it is incumbent upon MDS within its admission processes to accept those students whom it can actually educate. If the school is not set up for Downs, MDS should not be accepting students with this diagnosis. It would not be fair to those children with Downs. Furthermore, MDS's Special Education program begins in first grade. Therefore, MDS is simply not set up for special needs children in their Early Childhood Center. In this vein, why not knock Ramaz and SAR who have done far less in the area of Special Needs and are all "community schools"? The answer is simple and and seemed to be glossed over in this very one- sided article. The Samuel's situation is about that right to live in Manhattan and have the very specific educational environment that one wants for one's child available a short distance (walking distance in fact) from one's home. This sense of entitlement is simply outrageous. In fact, as stated in the article, there are Jewish Schools that are set up better than MDS for children with Downs. In fact, single communities many not be able to create these very specific types of schools because the demand in one community is simply not great enough. Therefore, such schools, which by design are quite expensive to run, are generally set up outside of Manhattan where it is somewhat less expensive. Each Jewish special education school is in many ways a magnet school for the type of disabilities it can handle. While MDS's special education program draws children from all over the tristate area, the other special needs programs in Long Island, Queens, Brookly, Connecticut, and New Jersey also draw students from all over. These schools all address relatively specific types of special needs similar to MDS's program. In the secular world, children from all over New York commute to some of the city's best special education schools. In example fo such a school would be the Mary McDowell Center for Learning in Brooklyn which draws students from all over the tristate area. Is it unreasonable to expect that the Samuel's could avail themselves of schools that are better designed for Downs such as Sinai? These schools even provide busing for children from all over. What the Samuels really want is convenience and that is not a reasonable expectation when dealing with educating children with special needs. I will note that it is a reasonable expectation that one's synagogue would be accommodating because in the orthodox world one must walk to synagogue. However, one does not need to be walking distance to school. I truly support the Samuels in finding the right educational environment for their daughter so that she can grow up and fulfill all of her potential. However, bashing MDS because it is the neighborhood school is not acceptable. Manhattan is not an entitlement for anyone. If sending Caily to a school outside of Manhattan is more than the Samuels can handle, perhaps they should consider moving closer to a school such as Sinai. It does not appear to me that they have truly opened themselve up to the options that already exist in Jewish education. Shame on the The Jewish Week for taking cheap shots at MDS, a school that does more for special needs children than most!
we have an 11 year old daughter with DS mainstreamed at beis ya'akov in montreal. i am assured on a very regular basis by the heads and staff of the school what an asset she is to the school. she has a shadow in the class part time, she manages other times with no shadow and at other times when she needs asssitance and the shadow is not there - a class mate helps out - chinuch in action. what a kidush Hashem. beis ya'akov and our family will be there at the finishing line when our daughter arrives - better partners we could not wish for. they are taking torah principles and practicing them the whole story of the samuels and their treatment by a so-called jewish day school saddens me. i sadly see some sort of selection process coming through on the part of MDS which doesn't conjur up pleasant thoughts in fact it triggers unpleasant memories come on MDS - Rabbi Riskin, who was instrumental in the founding of this school, must be so ashamed of what you are doing. nevermind the melochim and Hashem when they look down and see this chilul Hashem or perhaps sinas chinam among those who call themselves torah practicing jews i too,am ashamed to be in the same group as the decision makers of MDS
Inclusion works!!! Jewish preschools in NY, NJ, CT, MA, CA, MD, etc. have included children with Down Syndrome (and other cognitive issues) to the benefit of all children in the class. Study after study documents the benefits of the inclusive classroom to ALL learners. Each child is a unique person, not merely a diagnosis, and should be evaluated... See More by the school on his/her own merits. Our daughter Julia has DS. Now 13, she has been fully included since preschool and has gained so much academically and socially from this experience. Many teachers and administrators, particularly after Julia published a book that she wrote, told us that if they realized how well inclusion can work, they would not have had any trepidation about trying it. I wish Caily and her parents success in finding a school that is right for her, that will welcome her because she is a great kid with so much to offer. And I wish that more Jewish schools would find ways to open their minds, hearts and doors to ALL Jewish children
Schools often accept students only to discover later on that the child has type of disability, be it cognitive or emotional. In Caily's case, the school has the chance to enter a new relationship with its eyes wide open. While it is clear from the talkbacks that MDS should be applauded for the help it has offered several parents and students with special needs, MDS should not squander this opportunity to help the Samuels give their youngest child the same Jewish education they have provided for their older children . In our neighborhood in Israel, we have seen a young girl with Down's Syndrome progress through the local religious elementary school and while there have been bumps along the way, this child, and her classmates, have blossomed through the experience. The Samuels have already agreed to pay for the extra expense that MDS might incur in including Caily in their school and, as recent articles indicate, Caily's test scores show that she has the cognitive abilities to meet the requirements of an MDS education. How lucky MDS is to have a family who is so passionate about providing all of their children with a quality Jewish education.
In the Modern Orthodox community, we value learning. But...it's not enough to teach values, we need to live them. Clearly MDS needs to create an inclusion program. It would benefit all of its students.
Special needs is not Down Syndrome. Read carefully - MDS is not unique, there isn't a Yeshiva in the country that would take her. Not because they don't care about her - my understanding is that there are dozens of families like the first commenter - but because they can't. Try asking Ramaz or SAR, who are both within reasonable distances. It's not fair to the school or the child to ask them to. What these parents, who are clearly just trying to do what they think is best for their kid, should be doing is pushing Sinai, Cahal or Kulanu to open a program in the city.
The statement "can't" is inappropriate since they have never tried. They should try, they could try, but so far they won't try. They won't even meet and evaluate the child or review the evaluations by others of what would be necessary for Caily to receive a Jewish education. They are afraid that more children with Down syndrome would apply to MDS. Most of us look for the day when tikkun olam is no longer necessary because the world is healed. MDS is shutting its doors to a great opportunity to participate in the healing process through education.

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