NDEP Statement of Principle

Lawrence Siegel, J.D., Executive Director, National Deaf Education Project

In 2000, the National Deaf Education Project (NDEP) published, through Gallaudet University, its Statement of Principle (SP). The SP was based on one simple yet essential notion: that all educational options for deaf and hard of hearing children must be communication-driven.* All important institutions in the United States have an underlying concept or "starting point" from which their philosophy and goals evolve and upon which their programs, day to day operation, and resources are developed.

And even though communication and language are central to the appropriate growth of deaf and hard of hearing children (indeed to all humans), communication and language within the American educational system is of secondary importance. Not only is it not a required part of a child's IEP, but many school systems and even courts dismiss the claim of a child to be able to access the world around her as merely a debatable IEP item or as many courts have said, merely a "methodology" debate. Not surprisingly, when Amy Rowley sought a ruling from our highest court that she was entitled to a sign language interpreter, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1982 that IDEA did not require the provision of the interpreter. As a result, Amy was denied at least 40% of the language and communication in her class.** The "Rowley" ruling is still the law of the land, and as many families of deaf and hard of hearing children know, attempts to secure the kind of placement, services, and environments necessary for their children are difficult at best. They certainly know that those elements that are fundamental to any education-access to teachers and peers who can communicate and to language-rich and appropriate environments-must be fought for year, after year, IEP after IEP. They wonder what parent of a hearing child must fight every year for a reading program or for the right of a child to go into a classroom and be able to access the language in that program?

The SP proposes, among many other things, a "model federal law" that includes extensive detail regarding the kind of statute that must be in place to insure that deaf and hard of hearing children receive a rich, easily accessible, and effective education.

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*Since the SP was published some have suggested that a better phrase is communication and language-driven. We agree.

**Amy's school came up with the 40% figure by having her sit with one adult who spoke one word and then held up pictures of 3 items. Amy was able to pick out the right picture for the spoken word 60% of the time. We believe it is highly questionable that Amy therefore missed "only" 40% of language in the classroom, an environment fundamentally different in terms of noise levels, language complexity, and the kind of spoken language continuously circulating in a classroom from the testing situation described.

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The SP describes a communication-driven program as one in which a deaf or hard of hearing child has a right to:

Communication access: a right to a program where there is a critical mass of age, language, and cognitive peers, where the child can communicate directly and easily with staff.

Communication development: a right to a program in which the child's communication mode and language will be properly assessed and there will be a formal, systemic approach to helping that child develop his or her language skills to an age appropriate level. Schools have a duty to develop reading skills in all children-why not language skills?***

The SP analyzed the law, including the statutes and regulations of IDEA, court cases, and policy guidelines regarding deaf children. It concluded that given the enormous importance of communication and language for deaf and hard of hearing children, there simply must be a new educational delivery model and a recognition that a child has a right to communication and language, not merely a right to debate their importance in an IEP meeting.

The SP remains a viable description of the current status of deaf education and the changes that are required. Since the publication of the SP, the NDEP has concluded and written accordingly that IDEA violates the 1st and 14th Amendment rights of deaf and hard of hearing children, and therefore, it is time that those constitutional rights apply to our children as well.

For more information on the National Deaf Education Project, visit www.ndepnow.org.

*** A communication and language-driven system must serve all deaf and hard of hearing children, whether they are oral/aural, use ASL, cued speech, TC or various signing systems. The different needs of a child with a cochlear implant and a child who is profoundly, pre-lingually deaf must be addressed by the school system and not be a subject of in-fighting between our various communities.

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