"Every member of the people of Israel is obligated to study Torah—regardless of whether one is rich or poor, physically able or with physical disability." (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Talmud Torah, 10)
Jewish education is special education. Jewish schools have a moral and ethical obligation to provide a quality Jewish education for all. As Jewish educators, we must be clear on this mission, we must increase our expertise, and we must build strong, trustworthy relationships with parents and students.
Ways to Make Your Educational Programs More Inclusive:
• Write a statement of inclusion that welcomes all students, irrespective of their learning styles or level of academic competence, and include it in marketing of your religious school as well as in your school registration form.
• Include a "Special Needs" section in your school registration packet that inquires about any academic challenges or difficulties, the student’s specific diagnostic label, modifications or accommodations required for the student’s success, and any medication the student takes. Assure parents that the student’s teacher and school director will use this information for the student’s benefit.
• Employ a special education teacher to serve as your religious school "inclusion specialist." That person will observe students, offer suggestions to the teachers, develop curriculum changes, and help set realistic goals for the student who has special needs.
• Learn about the many ways in which to modify a bar or bat mitzvah for children who have a wide variety of disabilities. Establish a policy that ensures that all children will have the opportunity to celebrate their bar/bat mitzvah from the bimah when and if they are ready.
• Integrate disability awareness and sensitivity training into your religious school curriculum in a way that is touched upon in each grade.
• Provide disability awareness and sensitivity training for school staff and youth group leaders, and offer strategies for successful inclusion in these areas. (Use professionals who work with individuals who have disabilities who are members of your congregation).
• Train post-B'nai mitzvah students to becomemadrichim(classroom aides and tutors) for children who have difficulties with the regular religious school curriculum.
• Promote a Best Buddies group for teens to develop friendships with children and teens who have special needs.