The first day of the school year is an exciting day for parents and pupils alike. However, parents and pupils frequently encounter difficulties in exercising their rights to an appropriate learning environment and to suitable study conditions - especially in the case of pupils with special needs. The Office of the Ombudsman gives assistance in a variety of issues relating to education, including in the field of special education, such as placements, transportation and special services in educational institutions for special-needs pupils. Following the intervention of the Office, the relevant authorities adapt the study conditions in order to supply the pupils with an appropriate learning environment to which they are entitled by law.
The following are a few examples of complaints handled by the Office of the Ombudsman:
The after-school care facility refused to make adaptations for a girl with a life-threatening food allergy
The mother of a girl with a life-threatening food allergy complained that her daughter's after-school care facility had refused to make the necessary adaptations for her. The Office of the Ombudsman made enquiries with the organization operating the after-school care facility and pointed out that in accordance with the circular of the director general of the Ministry of Education, a pupil suffering from sensitivity to food must not be prevented from participating in the learning, educational or social activities of an educational institution or after-school care facility. Educational institutions, including after-school care facilities, are obligated to make adaptations in order to enable pupils with allergies to particular foods to participate in their activities. Following the intervention of the Office, the organization notified the Office that the after-school care facility had started to implement the regulations laid down in the director general's circular, on a gradual basis, and had begun to create a safe environment for the complainant's daughter and to train the helpers how to treat her in an emergency.
The classrooms were not adapted for pupils with impaired sight and hearing
The parents of children suffering from impaired sight and hearing complained to the Office of the Ombudsman that in the classrooms of their children, acoustic accessibility had not been made, months after the start of the school year, despite their application to the local council on the matter some five months before the start of the school year. Following the intervention of the Office, the council apologized for the delay in handling the parents' request and pointed out that the lesson had been learnt from the failure to make preparations in advance. The council notified that it had already found out where the complainants' children would be learning in the coming school year and had made the necessary accessibility adaptations in the classroom where they would be sitting, before the start of the school year. The council also notified that it had instructed all the educational institutions within its jurisdiction to check if they had accessibility problems and to bring them to the attention of the director general of the council so that he could monitor the handling of them.
Overcrowding in the classrooms of disabled pupils
Another complaint was filed by the father of a child on the autism spectrum who learns in a special education class at a school in which children with disabilities are integrated in special education classes and regular classes. The father complained that the local authority did not allocate enough classrooms, para-medical treatment rooms, etc. that are adequate for the many needs of these pupils. He related that many disabled children learn in the school and the overcrowding in the classrooms makes them restless and bad-tempered, making it difficult to handle them.
The local authority responded that there was a plan to add to the school three classrooms, but the Office of the Ombudsman's investigation disclosed that this addition was not enough and would not solve the problem of overcrowding in the school, nor would it ensure an appropriate learning environment. Following the intervention of the Office, the local authority agreed to add five classrooms, instead of the three planned, in order to accommodate the needs of the school and enhance the pupils' welfare.
Lack of replacement helper for a disabled pupil suffering from mental disability
The father of a boy suffering from mental development disability and learning in a special education school complained that the local council within the jurisdiction of which he lived did not supply his son with a helper during all school hours, and especially on Fridays. The complainant related that his son had to stay at home on the days that the helper did not work. Following the inquiry of the Office of the Ombudsman, the local council decided to pay for additional weekly hours of a helper, in addition to the 30 weekly hours approved by the Ministry of Education. The council found a replacement helper who has started to accompany the child to school, on a regular basis, on Fridays.