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Deaf Education Options Guide

Public Laws that Affect Deaf Education

Prior to 1975, more than one-half of the children with disabilities in the United States did not receive appropriate educational services that would enable such children to have full equality of opportunity. One million of the children with disabilities in the United States were excluded entirely from the public school system and did not go through the educational process with their peers...because of the lack of adequate services within the public school system. Families were often forced to find services outside the public school system, often at great distance from their residence and at their own expense.”16 Due to these gaping failures on the part of the American educational system, Congress passed a series of laws that were aimed at addressing the problems. The first of these was the passing of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This combined with Public Law 94-142 (the 1975 Education for All Handicapped Children Act) assured a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for every child with a disability. Then in 1986, Public Law 94-142 was further amended by Public Law 99-457 (Education of the Handicapped Amendments of 1986). Finally, the 1990 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)17 was enacted. The IDEA now refers to the entire package of laws that assures a decent public education for all children with disabilities.

One of the most important things a parent can do for their child is to know the law, their rights under it and then take a proactive stance towards their child’s education. “Parents should think of themselves as their child’s only advocate in a complicated legal dispute. IEP lawyers who deal with a particular district eventually will want to compromise on an individual’s IEP to preserve their cordial relationship with the district. Parents should learn the IEP process and look for a parent who has successfully gone through fair [due] process as a mentor.”18 Parents must be effective advocates for their children and they need to understand what the IDEA mandates the schools to do.

The IDEA requires:

  • Early and unbiased evaluation of hearing loss in school-age children
  • Unbiased evaluation of deaf children using a variety of communication methods, including sign language.19 “Each local educational agency shall ensure that tests and other evaluation materials used to assess a child under this section are provided and administered in the child’s native language or other mode of communication, unless it is clearly not feasible to do so…”20

In addition the IDEA and supporting Public Laws require that: :

  • Disabled children need to be placed in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) that is as close to their home as possible. Due to the communication issues inherent in deafness, the LRE clause required more careful definition by the Government. In 1992, the Department of Education issued a Notice in the Federal Register designed to clarify the issue of what is meant by LRE and Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). The Policy Guideline points out that “the major barriers to learning associated with deafness relate to language and communication, which, in turn, profoundly affect most aspects of the educational process. [The] communication nature of the disability is inherently isolating, with considerable effect on the interaction with peers and teachers that make up the educational process. This interaction, for the purpose of transmitting knowledge and developing the child’s self-esteem and identity, is dependent upon direct communication. Yet, communication is the area most hampered between a deaf child and his or her hearing peers and teachers.”21 Further, “The Secretary is concerned that the LRE provisions of the IDEA and Section 504 are being interpreted, incorrectly, to require the placement of some children who are deaf in programs that may not meet the individual student’s educational needs. Meeting the unique communication and related needs of a student who is deaf is a fundamental part of providing a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to the child. Any setting, including a regular classroom, that prevents a child who is deaf from receiving an appropriate education that meets his or her needs, including communication needs, is not the LRE for the individual child. Placement decisions must be based on the child’s IEP. The decision as to what placement will provide FAPE for an individual deaf child—which includes a determination as to the LRE in which appropriate services can be made available to the child—must be made only after a full and complete IEP has been developed that addresses the full range of the child’s needs.”22
  • Children with disabilities must be offered a continuum of placements ranging from hospital environments to school environments.
  • The IEP Team must develop an IEP [Individual Education Plan] for each child with a disability. The IEP Team must “consider the communication needs of the child, and in the case of a child who is deaf or hard of hearing, consider the child’s language and communication needs, opportunities for direct communications with peers and professional personnel in the child’s language and communication mode, academic level, and full range of needs, including opportunities for direct instruction in the child’s language and communication mode; and [shall] consider whether the child requires assistive technology devices and services.”23
  • The Law also requires that parents are included in the IEP discussions and are to be a part of the IEP Team.24

In addition to all of these laws, the Bilingual Education Act of 1988 provides the legal definition of the terms native language and limited English proficiency. Deaf students were included in its terminology for the first time.25 Yet with all of this legal coverage, many of the parents responded that getting what they felt their child needed was like pulling teeth. One parent noted that the only thing the courts require is that the schools provide a LRE and a FAPE; they do not have to offer a program in which the child will excel. Another parent wrote “ We have had to fight every inch of the way with the school district to get what my daughter needs. When she started kindergarten they did not agree she needed a transliterator and we went to due process hearing twice in order to get her what she needed. They originally claimed she was such a good lip-reader that they did not see “need”. Going the due process hearing route is perhaps the most stressful thing I have ever done in my life. However, if she does not get a qualified transliterator next year—we may have to do it all over again. Our stance is that we want her to have access to the same information as the hearing children in her classroom.”26

Unfortunately, part of the problem is lack of knowledge. Deafness is considered a low incidence disability. It is a disability that requires personnel with highly specialized skills and knowledge. Teachers and aides with these skills are costly. Interpreters are as well. School systems, with ever tightening budgets, may have difficulty justifying the cost. As a result, they try to do with less. If they think the child can survive mainstreaming, they will push for it. Moreover, the item that ultimately determines the issue in many cases is not what the parents or administrators want but rather, what the child needs.27

The situation is not hopeless. Many parents have gotten what they felt their child needed, but they knew their rights and their child’s rights. Know the statutes (local, state and federal) that are pertinent to your situation. Get the amended IDEA 97 and and a copy of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). Go through them with a fine-tooth comb. Some areas of the country have departments within special education that will help you understand the rules. Each State should have an advisory panel for “the purpose of providing policy guidance with respect to special education and related services for children with disabilities in the State.”28 In addition, the Department of Education has a hotline. “They will explain to any district over the phone or in person exactly what its responsibilities to the child and to the family is.”29 Several states (North Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and California) have passed a “Deaf Child’s Bill of Rights”.30 These Laws were passed to legislate closer adherence to the policy guidance found in the Federal Register. Talk to your State Representative and ask why your State does not have a Deaf Child’s Bill of Rights. Others, like Massachusetts and Michigan, have a maximum feasible benefit statute. This means that children should be provided with services that allow them to meet their maximum potential instead of their average potential.31 Parents need to become political advocates for their children as well as educational advocates.

Parent respondents suggested that other parents take the time to do some hard research. Present the educational establishment with well-researched data. Speak their language. Be persistent. Be involved in your child’s schooling and know your expectations. This is helpful at IEP time.32 Be careful of your own wording. “The courts have said that with the exception of maximum benefit states the child is only entitled to an ‘appropriate’ education. Parents should NEVER tell the school that a particular program or course of study is necessary for their child to get the ‘best’ education. Always, always say it is necessary to get an ‘appropriate’ education.”33 Several parents agreed that it is important to ask to see the draft IEP prior to the IEP meeting. They suggested that parents fill out their own IEP form and present it at the meeting to be combined with the school’s draft proposal. Access to the IEP, the parents felt, allowed them to be better prepared for the IEP meeting. “If they refuse your suggested changes, you have to show that your suggested changes are necessary to make the IEP appropriate. Battles can be won, but choose them wisely.”34 One parent suggested this “Learn to be an advocate—even if it means taking CLASSES to learn to be assertive. Otherwise educators will walk all over you.”35

Public Laws that Affect Deaf Education

This document was posted with permission from the author, based on the posting at http://www.listen-up.org/edu/options1.htm. Although this 1998 article remains informative, it is vital that readers do current research.

The original deaflinx.com site was written and authored by Amy Frasu. Deaf Linx is now run by Ericka Wiggins. Here are the Facebook and Twitter pages for Deaf Linx.