Special Education in Israel
Meadan, Hedda, Gumpel, Thomas P., Teaching Exceptional Children
* What services does Israel provide for students with disabilities?
* What is the legal definition of "students with disabilities"?
* Is inclusion an option?
* How are placement decisions made?
* What changes are on the horizon?
The foundation for answering questions and understanding Israeli special education is the Special Education Law of 1988 (SEL). The SEL marks a turning point in the provision of special education services to children and adolescents with special needs in Israel. The law was passed with wide multiparty support with hopes that it would create procedural certainty and would codify guidelines where none had previously existed (Gumpel, 2000).
Examination of the legislative intent of the Israeli parliament (the unicameral Knesset) reveals a basic conceptualization of disability among Israeli lawmakers at the time as it advocates for a segregationist and categorical perception of service provision (see box, "Complexities," for a description of the educational system in Israel).
This article describes changes taking place in Jewish special education (the focus is on the Jewish system, because non-Jewish special education is attempting to reach parity and match this system's resources and service provision model).
Special Education Law
The Israeli SEL was legislated in 1988 and consists of five subsections: Definitions of Terms, Free Special Education, Diagnosis and Placement, Education in a Special Education Institution, and Miscellaneous. Before the law's passage, special education procedures were based on an informal and personal form of negotiation among the educational system, the child's family, and the Ministry of Education and Culture (Gumpel, 1996).
In the United States, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 1997 Amendments (IDEA) is based on constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process, as described by the U.S. Constitution. Unlike the United States, Israel has no formal constitution. Some of the functions of a constitution are filled by the Declaration of Establishment (1948), Basic Laws (special "constitutional" laws dealing with basic governmental issues and requiring a large majority of the Knesset to modify them), and Israeli citizenship laws. Because these laws are insufficient to ensure absolute educational access for all citizens (Gumpel, 1996), parent groups, through a series of legal challenges and legislative advocacy (see Gumpel, 1996), proposed the SEL in the early 1980s.
The opening section of the law provides operational definitions and begins with the definition of "handicapped child" and "special education." These two definitions provide an interesting tautology: the "handicapped child" is defined as "A person aged three to twenty-one, whose capacity for adaptive behaviors is limited, due to faulty physical, mental, psychological or behavioral development, and is in need of special education" (Special Education Law of 4358, 1988, p. 2930).
On the other hand, "special education" is defined as "methodological teaching, learning and treatment granted by law to the handicapped child." (p. 2930). These circular definitions exemplify the confusion regarding exclusionary versus inclusionary special services: For a child to be defined as "handicapped," he or she must be taught in a "special education" framework which is then defined as a framework provided only to children with handicaps (Gumpel, 2000).
The Goals of Special Education
According to the law, special education in Israel has the following goals:
To advance and develop the skills and abilities of the specialneeds child, to correct and enhance his or her physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral functioning, to impart to him or her knowledge, skills and habits, and to help him learn acceptable social behavior with the goal to facilitate his or her integration into society and employment circles. …