Learn Your Special Education Laws, Special Education Rights, and Share IEP Goal Ideas

May 10
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by Doug Goldberg

As of 2004, the definition of ‘least restrictive environment’ as written in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): “To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.

Essentially what that means is that the law views public schools as the “least restrictive environment.” But we have to remember the majority of laws that were passed have been written by hearing people, with little or no input from Deaf people. To hearing people, public schools are least restrictive in the sense that hearing people do not need to worry about accessibility issues or accommodations. Can we say the same about Deaf students? Are public schools truly “least restrictive environment” for Deaf students? Many hearing legislators, hearing administrators, and the hearing society want to believe that Deaf students can attend a public school and do just fine, as long as the Deaf student has cochlear implant and is hearized to the fullest extent possible. Bills have been proposed with this belief in mind, such as House Bill 1367 in Indiana and Assembly Bill 2072 in California, for example. If schools for the deaf can be closed down as result of such bills, it’s a nice benefit in eyes of most legislators, administrators and society. Why waste money on schools for the deaf when it can be funneled toward public schools?

But what most hearing legislators, hearing administrators, and the hearing society either fail to understand or refuse to accept is the fact that, for most Deaf people, the “least restrictive environment” is synonymous with “language-rich environment.” A language-rich environment is an environment where Deaf students have full access to American Sign Language (ASL), and their teachers are fluent signers and are fully trained to teach Deaf students. This concern about access to ASL and having teachers who can sign fluently isn’t new. In the past years, students have protested when they are faced with ongoing problems of quality of communication access, such as protests at Mississippi School for the Deaf and North Carolina School for the Deaf, for example. Deaf students understand that the quality of their education is compromised if their teachers cannot sign well.  ASL is the birth right of every Deaf student, and ASL has been in U.S. and Canada for over 300 years.

Public schools and oral schools are “most restrictive environment” for most Deaf students because Deaf students are not given full, unobstructed access to language, and are often taught by teachers who are not adequately trained in deaf education and often do not sign well (if at all). Additionally, public schools and oral schools follow the agenda set by “medical route environment” or “medically restrictive environment.” Audism is often practiced in this type of environment where everything is defined by what is seen in the audiogram, and how the Deaf student can be made to resemble a hearing person as much as possible.

ASL Rose supports language-rich environment for all Deaf students and would like to see zero medically restrictive environments (MRE), because MREs have no place in deaf education and have demonstrated long-term negative effect on the Deaf society. As you can see in the accompanying drawing by Paia Schroeder, on one side is a gathering of happy Deaf schools, and if an unlucky Deaf school listens to the false message of ‘freedom and hope’ offered by legislators and those following MRE path, the Deaf school gets beaten up and dies from effects of audism, bad bills, MRE, and lack of respect for ASL and Deaf culture.

To read Dr. E. Lynn Jacobowitz & Dr. Adonia K. Smith bios' please visit their website ASL Rose.


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