Medical Officer of Health does the right thing for the child

Last week, the City of Toronto Medical Officer of Health urged the Board of Health Budget Committee to adopt a proposal by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Advocacy (CIJA) and the Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Education (KCJE) to extend the city’s Nutrition Program to students attending independent schools, including Jewish day schools.

The Nutrition Program attempts to ensure that children whose families are struggling with poverty will not be deprived of the essential tools of succeeding in school. In this case, the essential tool of course, is a nutritious meal so that the child will not have to try to learn while distracted or even suffering from hunger.

We applaud the initiative by CIJA and the KCJE. And we especially applaud the wisdom, foresight and generosity of spirit of the City of Toronto Medical Officer of Health. We hope the Officer’s recommendations will be adopted.

Especially heartening is the acuity of insight demonstrated by this decision of the Medical Officer of Health. Officer understands and acknowledges that the most important determinant governing intervention by government is the condition of the child, not the name of the child’s school. What counts above all else is doing the right thing for the child.

How principled and welcome it would be if the Ontario government were to adopt the same line of reasoning in relation to students with learning disabilities.

For more information, please see the report on the CIJA website:
http://cija.ca/breakthrough-toronto-school-nutrition-programs/.

•••

L’Shana tovah tichatevu v’techatemu.

Be well.
GAJE

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Every Kid Counts

We call attention to a new grassroots initiative, Every Kid Counts, joined by The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) that attempts to rectify the discriminatory educational funding policies of the government of Ontario toward children with disabilities or special needs.

GAJE has also drawn the public’s attention to this egregious injustice. We commend the individuals behind this new effort for also attempting to make right this unconscionable wrong.

Various day schools administrations have sent out letters to their parent body explaining the discrimination and asking them to register their protest with the government. We reproduce the core of the letter and urge all readers of this update to sign the petition. As the letter to the parents noted, “The government needs to hear from as many concerned Ontarians as possible.”

Sadly, the province does not support all children with disabilities or special needs equally. Children enrolled in independent schools, like ours, do not receive any government support for behavioural, communication, intellectual and physical disabilities, like anxiety, depression, ADHD, dyslexia, blindness, deafness, autism or diabetes.

“Every Kid Counts has launched an online petition calling on the Government of Ontario to support children according to their needs, not according to school.

Take action with thousands of other parents and grandparents by clicking here.”

•••

In addition to bidding everyone Shabbat shalom, we extend our heartfelt best wishes to all the Jewish people for a good, healthy, New Year.

L’Shana tovah techatevu v’techatemu.

And may we be able to say at this time next year that Jewish education in Ontario has indeed become affordable for all families that seek a Jewish education for their children.

Be well.

GAJE

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The unfairness is not moral

A member of the community, responding to GAJE’s recent call for the government of Ontario to ameliorate its unfair funding policy in relation to children with learning disabilities, sent GAJE a reminder this week of the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s (OHRC) policy on accommodating students with disabilities.

In 2003, the Ontario Human Rights Commission published a comprehensive policy statement on the subject of ensuring that children with learning disabilities too receive the opportunity of an excellent education. The document was entitled Guidelines on Accessible Education. The province had also published a companion document, The Opportunity to Succeed: Achieving Barrier-free Education for Students with Disabilities.
Both documents are available online at the OHRC website.

The OHRC categorically states: The Ontario Human Rights Code guarantees the right to equal treatment in education, without discrimination on the ground of disability, as part of the protection for equal treatment in services. Education providers have a duty to accommodate students with disabilities up to the point of undue hardship.

Alas, as we know, in the severely financially strapped and now precarious Jewish Day School system, many, if not most students with learning disability cannot be accommodated, precisely because the funds needed to do so are lacking.

The OHRC also categorically states that under the Education Act, the Ministry of Education is responsible for setting out a process for identifying and accommodating disability-related needs in the publicly funded elementary and secondary school systems. The Ministry must ensure that all exceptional pupils can access special education programs and services without payment of fees. The Ministry is responsible for funding levels and structures, legislating procedures, and creating appeal and monitoring mechanisms.

Is it not the time, some 15 years after the guidelines were enshrined by the OHRC into a formal text, that the government apply its obligation to the schools outside the publicly funded ones? How can the government be so indifferent to the special-needs children outside the public school system?

The essence of the issue that troubled the Ontario Human Rights Commission was how to overcome the obstacle of disability in relation to children’s education. It was not how to differentiate among schools so that the obstacle can be successfully overcome. The fact that the Human Rights Code also acknowledges the legitimacy of accommodating religious education, where warranted, suggests that the government should be able and indeed must make every reasonable effort to integrate both of these vital human rights.

The government’s current funding policy however effectively precludes a child from access to reasonable accommodation in relation to a religious component to her education once she asks for reasonable accommodate as well in relation to her disability needs.

How is this fair? Indeed, it is not.

The year is 2017. It is now well past time that the government of Ontario also take seriously the spirit of the learning disability guidelines of 2003 promulgated by the Ontario Human Rights Commission regarding health support services for disabled students. The government should extend health support services to all of Ontario’s disabled students.

This is the moral thing to do. It is the correct thing to do.

•••

Shabbat shalom.

GAJE

 

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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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The issues are urgent. They won’t go away

Earlier this month, Gabe Aaronson wrote an article about the high cost of day school tuitions in Kol HaBirah: Voice of the Capital, a bi-weekly print and online publication serving the Maryland, DC, and northern Virginia Jewish community.

Although restricting himself to local data and local examples, Aaronson’s essay could apply to the GTA as well, as his introductory paragraph illustrates.

“Education has been a cornerstone of Jewish life for millennia, and American Jewry’s increasing focus on affordable day school tuition reflects that priority. On the one hand, there is huge emphasis on the importance of a day school education for the future of the Jewish community. School leaders stress to parents that the value of a good dual-curriculum is well worth the expense. On the other hand, many parents told Kol HaBirah that the price tag can create a financial burden that disrupts family life, impacts family-planning decisions, or makes it harder to donate to synagogues and other communal institutions.”

In exploring the issue of the increasing unaffordability of day school, Aaronson makes the following key points:

• Even families with comfortable incomes can struggle with tuition.
• The heads of Jewish institutions generally agree that tuition is very high, but most believe that increasing enrollment is more important than lowering tuition and that there’s a tenuous link between the two.
• While the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington continues to look for ways to offset the cost of day school tuition, the Federation and the day schools are exploring ways to market the value of a Jewish day school education to parents. According to the Federation, this approach is better supported by the research.
• Jewish schools could use more economies of scale. The average operating cost (not including scholarships) for Jewish schools the Greater Washington area was significantly higher than what the public schools spent, including all construction costs, in both Maryland and Virginia.
• Many parents disagree with the notion that the high cost of tuition is only a problem for individual families but not for the community as a whole.
• Multiple parents told Kol HaBirah that community members are choosing to have fewer children to better afford the price of Jewish day school.
• The takeaway for parents is that unless something big happens, tuition will keep rising. • School administrators, meanwhile, don’t necessarily see this as an unsustainable reality. “Good education is costly,” one administrator said, particularly in Jewish schools “that are providing a rich dual curriculum to [their] students.”

The issues that GAJE has been discussing publicly for some two years are being discussed in various communities throughout North America. The affordability crisis diminishes all communities. It is imperative that we resolve it – urgently. In truth, it is the highest priority for all communities.

•••

Shabbat shalom.

GAJE

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‘The imperative of the old kinship’

In his quasi-autobiographical work, Encounters with the Jewish People, the late British scholar and author, Chaim Raphael, described Jewish kinship as “a living force” that fostered in him “many special vantage points” that he “was impelled to explore.” Succinctly, he explained why. “I was responding always to a changing world and a changing self. In every situation, life was being enlarged through the interest one brought to it as a Jew.”

Raphael’s observation is remarkably uplifting. It eloquently rebuts and spins on its head the oft-heard justification from many Jewish youths for shying away from life as a Jew because they find it confining, narrow, insular, excessively particularistic and insufficiently universalistic.

In stark contrast to this easy abandonment of one’s identity, Raphael’s embrace of his Jewish connection was precisely because it “enlarged” his life.

Among the many moving insights he shared in “Encounters” was how he felt about his feeling of connection (kinship) with and for fellow Jews.

“The Jews, torn between pride and despair, have always tried to establish for themselves, where the real meaning [of interpreting the words of Torah to illuminate Jewish feeling and Jewish history] may lie: but the search presses on us today with a new intensity. As a Jew, one has been impelled by the events of our time into a recognition that the old kinship works on us now with a categorical imperative. To be casual about it, to belittle its implications, has become an act of moral indecency.”

Even though Raphael wrote these words in 1979, nearly 35 years after the end of World War 2 and some 30 years after the founding of the State of Israel, they are as compelling today as then. The Jewish population has grown only slightly since 1945. And it is likely a sad truth that “the old kinship”, as Raphael termed it, “works on” a smaller percentage of the younger Jewish generation than ever before.

It is among the chief purposes of Jewish education to ensure the everlasting connection among our children to “the old kinship”. And that is why GAJE cannot rest until Jewish education is affordable. We will never be casual about this.

•••

Shabbat shalom.

GAJE

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‘The Delusion of Affordability’

Glenn A. Drew, a founding member of the Board of Trustees of the American Hebrew Academy in Greensboro, North Carolina has written an important article, entitled The Delusion of Affordability, in which he eloquently pleads for more involvement by the philanthropic community in funding and sustaining Jewish day schools.

Drew makes the point that for no other key societal institutions – universities, hospitals, and museums – do we expect the consumer to pay the actual cost of operating the institution. “So why do we hold Jewish schools to an impossible double standard? Doing so is not only delusional; it is an affront to those who dedicate themselves to Jewish education,” the author asks.

Drew pleads the case of the Jewish schools: they are vital to the Jewish future and they require ongoing community involvement to maintain and sustain. Forever.

“Donors take note; Jewish schools continue to have the highest return on investment by any measure when compared with other Jewish programs, based on the numbers of young people who reflect unwavering pride in their Jewish heritage, strength in their Jewish identity, and a lifetime commitment to Jewish community, leadership, culture, experiences, support for Israel and Jewish life in the diaspora.

“The statistics are irrefutable. The Jewish People Policy Institute’s (JPPI) report on Raising Jewish Children found young Jewish leaders are disproportionately educated in Jewish schools. Jewish teen social networks influence the decision to attend Jewish schools which in turn furthers Jewish marriage.”

Drew acknowledges “affordability is not the only obstacle to Jewish school growth”. But it is the core of the core. The main point of his article, however, is that Jewish day schools are indispensible for the Jewish future and it falls to the entire community – including, if not especially the philanthropists among us – to maintain and sustain those schools. If we are to have the Jewish future of which we dream.

•••

Shabbat shalom.

GAJE

 

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We would like to share personal stories about how the affordability issue has affected families in our community. We will post these stories anonymously on our Facebook page and on our website.

We will not include any personal information such as names, schools, other institutions, or any other identifying information. We reserve the right to edit all submissions.

To share your story, either send us a message on our Facebook page or email us @ info @ gaje.ca.

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