In a Perfect World
Can Schools Withhold Information about D/HH Educational Options?
Amanda Kaahanui wondered why her school district on Oahu didn’t share information about programs for students who are deaf or hard of hearing (d/hh) that were available at neighboring schools or districts. “Don’t they have to do that?” she asked. Good question, Amanda, but even if you knew about an award-winning d/hh program center-based program in Bug Tussle, Idaho (I just made that up), would you actually leave Hawaii to get your kid there? Ok, that’s beside the point.
The federal law that mandates services for students with special needs is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which does not specifically require schools to share information about all d/hh educational options statewide. While the letter of the law is weak in this regard, the spirit of the IDEA may provide a strong argument for sharing all options in Section 300.324 A (iv) Special Considerations for Students Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing which directs d/hh IEP teams to consider the “opportunities for direct communication with peers and professionals in the child’s language and communication mode…” and “opportunities for direct instruction in the child’s language and communication mode.” Any bonafide consideration of those unique needs should compel the school district to share which programs anywhere in the state provide such opportunities (which could be highly specialized by mode or method of communication including ASL or Cued Speech or Auditory Verbal, etc…). Too often those conversations don’t happen, and unless parents are tenacious and well informed, many d/hh students stagnate in the status quo of an educational placement that just isn’t meeting their needs while a better option may be just a few more miles away.
When schools function like “gatekeepers” of information like this (even if it’s legally justified) it’s sometimes a maneuver intended to keep them from ultimately having to pay to transport a student outside their district—that can be expensive. Plus, the district could be worried that it’ll be difficult to promote the appropriateness of their program if it doesn’t measure up to a much stronger option somewhere else. The truth is some schools are just doing a better job at offering more resources and personnel—usually the result of a critical mass of kids in one place that brings necessary funding to support the costs of qualified staff, equipment and materials. If a family learns (from a resource produced by the school no less) about a neighboring district that’s got a lot more going on for d/hh kids, said family could ask for the same thing in their neighborhood school. Why this family might even press for an out of district placement at school expense if they successfully argued that by virtue of the fact that the school shared information about such programs it was in effect putting them on the table as placement options. If the IEP team decided the placement option that was just right for this kid was outside the school district, then of course, they’d have to pay to get the kid there, and they’d lose their district’s PPOR (per pupil operating revenue) allocation for this student. No wonder there’s usually an unofficial but undeniable “gag order” on staff to keep this from happening, which is why you’re not usually going to see an array of statewide program opps spread out before you at an IEP meeting.
What’s Mother (or Father) to Do?
In Colorado, the Deaf Child’s Bill of Rights was passed in 1996 when my son Dane was nine years old. I have a very nice picture of him standing beside then Governor Roy Romer at the Bill Signing which created a new law mandating that the IEP team write a “Communication Plan” amendment to all IEPs for students who were deaf or hard of hearing. There are still a few of us around who lobbied hard to get that bill passed, and I’ve got Cheryl DeConde Johnson to thank for reminding me why Colorado has it so good. It pains me to see the momentum slipping on endeavors like this for other states. Are any of you at work on this now? I highly recommend it; a DCBR (nowadays we think of them as a DHHCBR) can strengthen the weaknesses of the IDEA, and solve problems like “gatekeeping.” Among other things, the Colorado DCBR requires “an explanation of all educational options provided by the administrative unit and available for the child/student” (emphasis added) be provided to the family. Colorado has accurately interrupted “all educational options” as anything available in the state, which is why the Colorado Department of Education publishes a book updated annually that describes all d/hh programs by school district statewide. Of course, every family does not get a personal copy of this book, and in fact many families don’t know about this book for reasons described in the previous paragraph, but it is available for the asking. This makes it much easier for parents to access the information Amanda Kaahanui is seeking.
In a perfect world, parents don’t have to struggle and strain to locate the program where their child’s needs are best met. In the real world, you might have to get a law passed to get there. There are numerous states that have passed a DHHCBR or language in their state code relative to special education that may accomplish the same goal as Colorado’s law, but one would have to search on a state by state basis. Your chapter may want to consider whether your own state DCBR is a goal worth pursuing…H&V has been involved in this extensively and we can provide training on the components of a Bill and strategies for getting it through your legislature. Search Deaf Child’s Bill of Rights on our website for more information, or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org ~