This week we had our monthly team meeting for Caila where all her therapists and teachers get together to discuss her progress and challenges. The ELC Principal asked us if we were smiling? She went on to say, “because I am smiling” While Caila has her challenges in an inclusion classroom, she is making wonderful progress with hard work, a dedicated and skilled SAR Faculty and lots of support. We are all delighted!
“Have you heard about the new Jewish special needs school in Manhattan?” I must have been asked this question 50 times since the Jewish week published an article on Shefa, the new special needs, and only Jewish special needs, school opening in Manhattan.
Finally the Manhattan community is addressing the issue of special needs. Until now Manhattan was the only major Jewish community in North America that had no options for special needs kids. An absolute disgrace given that we live in the wealthiest Jewish community in the world and one of the most densely populated.
I am so happy for the families that are looking for a Jewish special needs school for their kids. I know the pain and stress associated with looking for a school. As a parent you want your kids to be accommodated in not just school but community as well. Our kids have enough challenges and we want them to know the Chanukah songs that their siblings know, we want them to feel the spirit of Shabbat and know the rituals too. We want them to be invited to birthday parties and we don’t want to have to say “sorry we cannot attend because the party is on a Saturday in a McDonalds”. So yes it is a start. Kudos to the individuals who made this happen. That said, it does not address the major problem of a lack of inclusion options in Jewish schools in Manhattan. For children for whom inclusion is possible, the needle has not moved. However countries like Australia were including kids with cognitive disabilities 20 plus years ago in their Jewish Day Schools. Inclusion in our community is still rare. It’s reserved for battle warrior moms who are willing to take on the community or rich families who buy their way in.
Progress in our community is evolutionary. While the world has come a long way in race relations, human and disability rights the Manhattan Jewish community has a way to go in truly including our children.
I conclude with the quote from disability activist Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, known for her emphasis on inclusion. Her quote echoes my feelings and those of so many Jewish families searching for a solution for their precious children. “The best model would be to include these children, with supports, into mainstream classrooms in the least restricted way possible,” Mizrahi said. “So as long as the bigotry and short-sighted leadership continues, Shefa is a good interim solution.”
Originally published: November 22, 2016
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