The High Court of Justice in Israel has revoked a decision by the Education Ministry to shorten the school day for autistic children by 45 minutes, starting from the upcoming school year. The court ruled that the decision violated the rights of the parents and the children, and that it was made without proper consultation and consideration of alternatives.
The court accepted two petitions filed by ALUT, the Israeli Society for Children and Adults with Autism, and parents of autistic children, who argued that the decision was disproportionate, discriminatory, and harmful to the children’s education and well-being. The court also found that the decision was not approved by the Education Minister or the Finance Minister, as required by law.
The court emphasized that its criticism was not directed at the Education Ministry’s policy, but at the way the decision was made and executed. The court acknowledged the ministry’s difficulties in dealing with a shortage of special education staff, which has affected hundreds of classrooms across the country. However, the court said that the ministry had other options to address the problem, such as raising the salaries of special education teachers, offering bonuses for working extra hours, or integrating teachers from the Arab community, where there is a surplus of special education teachers.
The Impact of the Decision
The decision to cut the school hours for autistic children was announced by the Education Ministry in June, only three months before the start of the school year. The ministry claimed that this was the best solution to cope with a lack of 1,300 special education teachers, which resulted in some classrooms being merged or closed.
The decision would have affected about 20,000 autistic children who study in 885 kindergartens, 79 schools, and 1,700 designated classes in the regular education system. The parents of these children were left with little time to make alternative arrangements for their children’s care and education.
The court noted that caring for autistic children is particularly demanding, and that any change in their routine and environment can have a negative impact on their development and behavior. The court also said that cutting 45 minutes from their school day would affect not only the children themselves, but also their families, their siblings, and their parents’ ability to work and earn a living.
The Reaction of the Petitioners
The petitioners welcomed the court’s ruling, saying that it was a victory for the rights of autistic children and their parents. They said that they hoped that the Education Ministry would take this opportunity to improve the quality and availability of special education in Israel, and to respect the needs and wishes of the families.
The petitioners also thanked the court for its swift and clear decision, which came only a few days after they filed their petitions. They said that they were relieved that their children would not have to suffer from a shortened school day, which would have deprived them of valuable learning and socializing opportunities.