The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) recognizes the value of schools for the deaf and cherishes their contributions to the education and development of deaf and hard of hearing children for nearly 200 years. Deaf schools are critical to the education of deaf and hard of hearing (hereinafter “deaf”) children, and every effort must be made to preserve them. NAD strongly supports the continuation and strengthening of these schools.
Deaf schools are not just an educational option, but are the only beneficial placement for many deaf children. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires that states provide a “continuum of alternative placements,” which includes “instruction in regular classes, special classes, special schools, home instruction, and hospitals and institutions.” (34 C.F.R. § 300.115) (Emphasis added.) Schools for the deaf are not optional, but are a mandated placement under law.
Schools for the deaf have been considered during state budget cuts, but often the costs are significantly higher to provide educational services in other settings. Placing deaf children in their respective neighborhood schools with the provision of communication access services can be extremely costly and, in some locations, simply not feasible due to limited human resources. There are barely enough qualified teachers of the deaf and qualified educational interpreters to meet current needs, and not nearly enough of such professionals to serve every neighborhood school that has a deaf child residing in the district. Placing every deaf child in their respective neighborhood school is not practical, economical, or educationally beneficial. In many states, there are large geographical areas with a small deaf student population, making schools for the deaf a cost-effective means to optimal educational services.
Deaf schools, an integral part of American history, have not only received quality education but also benefited from the fostering of its culture, heritage, and language through such essential institutions. Schools for the deaf, including charter schools founded to serve deaf children, are uniquely capable of providing the necessary visual learning environment and the ideal conditions for language development for deaf children.
Most importantly, deaf children can only begin to learn when they acquire language, which is a human and linguistic right, and this acquisition is optimally achieved in American Sign Language (ASL). ASL provides a solid language base, through which deaf children can further develop their cognitive and academic education to grow into contributing, successful adults. The value of teachers communicating directly with their students cannot be emphasized enough; educating children indirectly through interpreters or technologies is not effective or efficient especially with respect to the initial steps of language acquisition.
No other educational setting can offer the spontaneity and freedom of communication found in schools for the deaf. Schools for the deaf are unique and provide a community of genuine membership for many deaf children. Students in these schools develop emotional, social and cognitive abilities that are crucial to realizing human potential and identity. They provide extracurricular activities, leadership opportunities, and mentoring by successful deaf and hard of hearing adult role and language models. Students are part of a critical mass of age appropriate peers and common language users and experience authentic peer interaction. Schools for the deaf provide students with an inclusive, high quality education with high expectations, highly qualified teachers, and a rigorous general education curriculum.
Schools for the deaf also serve as statewide resource centers for all school districts to utilize when needed. They offer a wealth of expertise on all aspects of educating deaf children. Such centers provide valuable tools for information and referrals, technical assistance, professional development training, curriculum design, and media and materials exchange. They are also primary resources on ASL. Some schools for the deaf offer specialized services to support deaf students placed in their neighborhood schools. All school districts are encouraged to tap into the expertise of the professionals at schools for the deaf.
Without deaf schools, educating deaf children becomes more costly both in the short term with limitations in human and other resources and in the long term with educational deficiencies.
The choice is clear: with schools for the deaf, society benefits with more productive and contributing deaf adults. Schools for the deaf have produced thousands of productive members of our society and are critical for the continued development of deaf community leadership in our nation.
Call to Action
State support of schools. States must provide strong support to their school(s) for the deaf. This includes providing adequate funding, facilities, referrals, and other resources to the schools, and support to university programs to provide a source of teachers and other trained personnel.
Language-driven placements. Decisions about educational placements for deaf children should be guided by considerations of language. That is, deaf children should be placed in an educational setting that supports their language and communication access and development. The “least restrictive environment” for a deaf child is a “language rich environment” – and for many of these children it is a specialized setting, not necessarily the regular education environment.
Parent choice. Parents must have a protected right to choose a school for the deaf for their child’s placement. For this parental right to remain protected, states must ensure continued funding of schools for the deaf. States should ensure that parents and local school districts support the choice of a school for the deaf as a viable placement option.
Collaboration. States should develop and facilitate collaborations between the school(s) for the deaf and the statewide communities of deaf people, parents, professionals and local school districts. For the optimal benefit of deaf children, states should form some sort of committee or task force comprising of representation from these statewide communities. Through such groups, the entities can work together on issues that will improve education for deaf and hard of hearing children in the state.
Accountability. Schools for the deaf must be included in state accountability systems in ways that are meaningful and support improvements in outcomes for deaf and hard of hearing students. Schools for the deaf should follow and be accountable for the public education curriculum in their state or locality.
Personnel preparation. States must have meaningful standards for personnel preparation, curriculum, and access by the students to all staff and programs. Staff should be ASL fluent, culturally competent, and highly qualified in core academic subjects.
Transportation. States should support safe and adequate transportation, including transportation for extracurricular activities, for children to schools for the deaf. States should clarify which agency is responsible for providing transportation. Without the means to attend the school, the child’s right to attend the school is compromised.