Jewish Disabilities Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month

Awareness and Inclusion: Creating Opportunities for School Success for Children with Emotional Disabilities

 A reflection for Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month

By Rabbi David M. Rosenberg, Coordinator, Jewish Educational Services, JCFS Chicago Therapeutic Yeshiva 

During Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance & Inclusion Month and throughout the school year, the JCFS Chicago Therapeutic Day School & Yeshiva creates opportunities for success for students whose potential to achieve has been hindered by their emotional disability. 

The JCFS Therapeutic Yeshiva, an arm of the Therapeutic Day School, at the Joy Faith Knapp Children’s Center in the West Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, provides a therapeutic education for Jewish children whose emotional challenges stand in the way of success at a mainstream Jewish day school. Credentialed educators, clinicians, and other school professionals provide general and Jewish studies and address students’ social-emotional needs. A team approach involving school professionals, families, and outside providers as necessary, establishes goals for student growth. When the therapeutic team sees that a student is meeting his/her academic and social-emotional goals, the Yeshiva advocates for and supports reintegration (inclusion) in a mainstream Jewish school that meets the academic and cultural needs of the family. 

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) of 2004 mandates equity, accountability, and excellence in education for children with disabilities. IDEA requires that public schools make accommodations to meet the educational needs of children. IDEA has raised awareness about addressing disabilities throughout the country, including at private schools. 

In the case of certain disabilities, inclusion poses unique challenges. Among these is the general category of emotional disability, also known as "serious emotional disturbance." According to IDEA, a student with emotional disturbance has a limited ability to learn due to emotional or psychological factors, whether or not he/she has intellectual, sensory, or health factors that affect his/her learning. A student with an emotional disability may have difficulty relating with peers and teachers, may show inappropriate behavior, or may have a pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression. 

Jewish day schools strive to educate children with a variety of disabilities, even when not required to do so by law.  For example, children with learning disabilities may be supported by resource professionals, often using special curricula. Schools may accommodate children with physical disabilities by installing ramps and bars in washrooms.   Sometimes, separate classrooms allow students with disabilities to be included in a school. In Chicago, REACH helps Jewish day schools to meet children's academic, social-emotional, and health needs, so that children with different learning styles, abilities, challenges and special needs can access a Jewish education that reflects their parents' values.

JCFS Chicago Therapeutic Yeshiva serves the needs of full-day and partnership students.  Students who participate in the full-day program receive instruction in Jewish Studies (including Hebrew, Chumash, Navi, and Mishnah) and General Studies in a therapeutic milieu.  A member of the REACH team supports the efforts of JCFS Chicago’s resident Jewish studies teachers.  Some students participate in a partnership program, in which they spend part of their day at a day school.  (To date, JCFS Therapeutic Yeshiva has partnered with 5 ATT schools in this way.) The JCFS Chicago Therapeutic Yeshiva team supports reintegration to a day school of the family’s choice whenever a student shows reintegration readiness.