Back to School

Our children return to school next week.

Given the momentous announcements during the past academic year of the closures of certain day schools, we must ask whether in the imminent years to come there will remain a Day School system in the GTA that includes non-Orthodox schools.

It is a fair question.

In anticipation of the first week of school and in acknowledgment of some of the key issues facing our community regarding the future of the system, The Canadian Jewish News published five education-related articles in this week’s print edition of the paper. Two of the articles bear directly on the affordability crisis.

Under the headline “Families push for equal funding for special needs”, The CJN reporter Lila Sarick wrote about the inexplicable discrimination by the government of Ontario in its policy of differentiating between schools for health support services for children with special needs.

Sarick interviewed Allan Kaufman, a Toronto lawyer who tried – in vain, alas – to right the discriminatory wrong. “If you’re a disabled student in a Catholic school, you get treated like a king or queen. If you’re a disabled student in a Hebrew school, it depends on the kind of disability you have,” Kaufman told The CJN.

“If the provincial government had never decided to fund the disabled students in the Hebrew schools, then they could still take the view we’re not funding any students in Hebrew schools. But once they start to fund it, does anybody think there’s an argument about why they fund one disability but not another,” he said.

Rabbi Lee Buckman characterized this particularly objectionable discrimination as “apart from core funding, the most significant area of need for government support.”

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) has also joined the lobbying effort against the government. It is imperative that the government hears loudly but pointedly from voters that discriminating in this manner against children with special needs is particularly objectionable. The discrimination must stop.

In an article entitled “Reimagining Jewish Education”, Toronto educators Dan Aviv, Sholom Eisenstat and Frank Samuels present a compelling case for parents, families, the community and all other interested parties to embrace a new model of delivering Jewish education. They call it “blending Jewish”. The model “employs the best practices in e-learning” and still relies upon “experienced educators and advisers” to help students reach “new heights of thinking and creativity” and learn the skills they will need to face the future.

The authors cite three ways in which “blended Jewish” has the potential to transform Jewish learning.

We commend the article. Moreover, we commend its authors for applying their minds and focusing our thoughts on serious, new, imaginative, feasible and effective ways to make Jewish education in our community affordable.

Aviv, Eisenstat and Samuels acknowledge, “blended Jewish” may not be for everyone. But it stands to reason that their model will be for many others. The community ought to consider implementing a pilot project to determine the feasibility of the proposal.

•••

To all children returning to or starting school this week, we say: enjoy a wonderful year of blessing, discovery and fulfillment.

And we also say: Shabbat shalom.

GAJE

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