Raising and Educating a Deaf Child

International experts answer your questions about the choices, controversies, and decisions faced by the parents and educators of deaf and hard-of-hearing children.

Question from A.A., New Jersey

My daughter is profoundly deaf, she has a cochlear implant and she is progressing well at school. Currently she is attending NJ School for the Deaf, which happens to be in a different school district than where we live. Now, our school district wants to bring my daughter back to the district to a very new and improvised program (1 yr old program with only 1 other girl). I refused to sign the IEP, and I sent a letter explaining my disagreement with the proposed program and asked them to let my daughter stay at her current school. So far every attempt has been in vain, the school district told me I have no choice or say in this matter. And to make matters worse, it seems the law is backing them up. The principal, teachers, therapists of the NJSD, and independent professionals asked the school district to allow my girl to remain in NJSD, explaining their concerns. What else a parent can do to prevent this to happen? How could be that parents has no saying on their kids’ educational placement? Why would you move a child from a less restrictive environment to a VERY restrictive environment? Who should I reach out to, who could help me with this problem?

Question from A.A., New Jersey. Posted August 2, 2012.
Response from Lou Abbate - Willie Ross School for the Deaf

It is important for you to not become discouraged with the school district’s pending action and to remember that parents do have a say on the decision of their children’s educational placement.  The Individualized Education Plan (IEP) should drive the placement decision, and it appears that the New Jersey School for the Deaf is meeting your daughter’s needs and that she is making academic progress.

A change in placement should only be considered when a child is not progressing academically in the current program (this seems not to be the case with your daughter).  In addition, any new placement consideration must have a program that can meet the requirements of the IEP in order to ensure academic achievement.  Again, this does not appear to be the case from your description of the district’s program.  In fact, it is not clear what type of program the school department is offering.  There is a considerable difference between a placement (NJSD) and a program (public school).

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), children with special needs are entitled to a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment (LRE).  The least restrictive environment is not a particular place, and any placement along the continuum that provides the opportunity for academic progress and complete and access to the life of the school can be the LRE.  It may well be, in this case, that the New Jersey School for the Deaf is the LRE for your daughter as they are meeting her needs as outlined in the IEP.

I would suggest that you consider posing the following to the school district:

  1. What is the capacity of their program to meet your daughter’s needs?  How will they provide what NJSD currently provides to her?
  2. What is the licensure of the public school staff and their knowledge of deafness and hearing loss?
  3. How will her communication needs be met?
  4. How will the public school ensure access for your daughter to the life of the school and to all of its offerings?  Your daughter should be able communicate directly with everyone.
  5. How will they provide needed related services outlined in her IEP?
  6. What type of peer group will be available?

The claim that you have no choice in this decision is not correct.  You should be provided with information on how the school district concluded that NJSD is no longer an appropriate placement.  The school for the deaf should be able to generate a comprehensive explanation of her needs and needed program components and how NJSD is meeting those needs.  The school district would then have to demonstrate the capacity of their program to meet her academic needs, related services, and access to the school.

Finally, I would suggest you think about it differently than just requesting that she be able to stay at NJSD.  The law ensures that your daughter receive the necessary programs and services based on her IEP.  Therefore, the school district must be able to demonstrate their ability to deliver those services, along with why the current placement is not, before any change in placement is considered.  The reasons and the basis for any recommended changes in placement should be detailed and supported with assessment results.

Try to keep the focus of the discussion on the comparison between the two placements.  A relatively new program with only one other child currently enrolled is very different than a school for the deaf, which is organized around being able to respond to all of the needs of a child with a hearing loss.  Without knowing any more about your daughter’s individual case, it is difficult for me to add any additional information.