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 E.S., Texas

I have been a deaf educator for the past 15 years. I have taught both in residential schools and in regional day mainstream programs. I am becoming increasingly frustrated with the residential school for the deaf here. While there is a big push in the national agenda for students to have deaf peers, be a part of deaf culture, and learn from native signers… the school is allowed to refuse admission to students with low cognition (even if sign is their primary mode), additional disabilities, or behavior problems. The public school programs must accept and serve every child that enrolls on the day they arrive. Why are the state schools allowed to deny “admission” and why is there an admission process instead of just open enrollment? They certainly receive more funds to educate deaf students than public schools do…

Question from E.S., Texas. Posted November 26, 2012.
Response from Lou Abbate - Willie Ross School for the Deaf

I can understand your frustrations of the seriousness  of the issue of deaf and hard-of-children not being served in the best possible placement. Let me approach this topic first from an overall perspective of the responsibilities of all placements, which is to provide the needed program and related services to respond to the needs of the students based upon the appropriate assessment. An admissions process that conducts intakes in that fashion should be able to determine if the program can respond to those diagnosed needs. Beyond that, the placement must be able to demonstrate its ongoing capacity to meet the needs of the student as the child progresses.

An admissions policy that does not take into account the needs of a diverse population of students is not a positive standard of practice for our field, but the placement must have the competency to serve the student. In many ways, this not an admission policy but an issue of program development and expanding the capacity of the schools to serve a heterogeneous population.  I offer this not as an excuse but as a concern that unless, as professionals, we expand the options of placements like residential schools for deaf and hard-of-hearing children with additional challenges, students may be placed in settings that do not understand or have the training to meet the unique needs of deaf and hard-of-hearing children.

Our field is changing as the heterogeneity of the children becomes more evident.   Placements are often resistant to change because it requires them to review and modify their offerings and of the fear of a cultural change (although unfounded) such change would bring. The denial of admission of students is a serious concern and as those who practice in the field we must be supportive of expanding opportunities for placements to add to their offerings and expand their programs. This will require more than a revised admission policy but an assessment of mission and purpose of  schools for the deaf and how all of us can expand our willingness to serve a range of children.