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January 5, 2003

Saitama may change disabled student rules

From: Daily Yomiuri, Japan - 05 Jan 2003

Yomiuri Shimbun

The Saitama prefectural government is considering allowing handicapped students to enroll in both ordinary schools and schools for handicapped people, according to sources close to the government.

This would be the nation's first case in which such a policy, which is not stipulated in the current educational laws and ordinances, would be approved.

It is based on the policy of inclusion adopted by UNESCO's Salamanca Framework for Action at the World Conference on Special Needs Education in 1994, which stated that schools should accommodate all children regardless of their physical, intellectual, social and other conditions.

The prefectural government plans to start discussions soon with central and local governments in the prefecture, aiming to launch the system from the 2004 academic year, the sources said.

Under the new plan, students with disabilities will be allowed to attend ordinary schools in their respective school districts even if experts believe they would be better off attending schools for blind, deaf, or physically or mentally handicapped students.

The plan would give handicapped students more opportunities to interact with non-handicapped students and join in school events such as athletic festivals and communicate with people in their communities, according to a prefectural government official. Handicapped children and able-bodied students could deepen their understanding of each other while respecting each other's personalities, the official said.

Such students could attend special classes, which require specialized staff and special barrier-free facilities, at schools for handicapped students.

Boards of education usually specify a local school for a child with disabilities in accordance with national standards set by the Education, Science and Technology Ministry, which suggested that children should be registered at schools for the blind if their corrected eyesight does not meet certain standards and that those using wheelchairs should attend schools for physically disabled students.

However, the national standards are scheduled to be changed from the next academic year and handicapped students will be allowed to attend ordinary schools in accordance with the decisions of local authorities if they have special circumstances. Taking this into consideration, the prefectural government decided that all handicapped students would be allowed to register at ordinary schools.

Regarding the decision, a ministry official said: "The current School Education Law doesn't regulate registration at multiple schools. But if the system is adopted, there would be no students at schools for handicapped people. It's impossible."

A prefectural government official said: "We'll consider how to manage the planned system by looking at the current system, which allows students attending normal classes to concurrently attend special classes for handicapped people at normal schools."

In the prefecture, there were about 2,400 students at primary and middle schools for blind, deaf, and mentally or physically handicapped people as of May.

Copyright 2003 The Yomiuri Shimbun