Sunday, April 5, 2015

April 5 - Turn LRE Upside Down

Today's #AprilBlogADay topic is:

What practice, tradition, instructional strategy or anything else "must die"? What needs to stop in order for Education to move forward?

Immediately after reading this question, I thought of one practice in the education of children who are Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing that must go away.

How we view the Least Restrictive Environment for DHH students

Before reading any further, it is imperative that you know that what I explain below about students who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing are generalizations. Every child with a hearing loss is unique. Some are incredibly successful in the mainstream classroom whether they use hearing aids and communicate verbally or are profoundly Deaf and use American Sign Language and an interpreter in the classroom.

My goal is to talk about this subject broadly so that we can rethink how the Least Restrictive Environment issue is addressed with DHH students.

Least Restrictive Environment

According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Least Restrictive Environment for students with disabilities is:

"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."

The problem with this definition is how it is interpreted by teachers, administration, and policy makers in its application to DHH students. Their assumption is that putting these children in a classroom with "non-disabled" or hearing peers is the most appropriate educational placement.  

For a certain group of hard of hearing children, yes, I would consider this an appropriate placement.  I work with students in this category who have milder to moderate hearing losses, speak well, and socialize appropriately with hearing peers. They are very successful in the mainstream environment. Although, one can always argue about what "successful" really means, especially if the children are socially isolated from other DHH students. How does that impact their psyche?

As I think about the majority of students who are DHH, especially those whose primary language is American Sign Language (ASL), I say WHOA, wait a minute! Placing them alone in a classroom with 20+ hearing children may not be the most appropriate placement; it is a more restrictive environment. 

To understand why, you must understand my views on DHH students. These views are not unique to me; many in the field of Deaf education have the same opinions.
  • Students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing are not disabled; it just happens that they can't hear, are visual learners, and process the world differently than those who can. Many regular education teachers don't know how to adjust their instruction to this type of learner
  • Many of these students use ASL to communicate, hence members of a linguistic minority such as those students in our schools whose first language is something other than English. Therefore, they need to be able to freely and directly communicate with adults and peers in their first language
  • DHH students, like all students, are social beings and crave socialization with other DHH students. As a species, we all gravitate towards those that are like ourselves. One may walk into a cafeteria of a high school and see groups of Black students sitting together. Even those students with mild hearing losses become excited when they finally meet another child who has a hearing loss

In order for this post to not turn into a book, I will cut to the chase. 

When determining the LRE for DHH students, as per IDEA, the IEP team looks at the continuum of services starting with 100% mainstream and goes through each environment until the team comes to one they believe will meet the student's needs. RARELY does a team dicuss every option available, including a school for the Deaf.  This is because according the IDEA regulations, they don't have to; plus IDEA considers a Deaf school to be the most restrictive. For DHH children, this is ludicrous!

I contend that the LRE options need to be turned upside down for DHH students. 

The school for the Deaf should be the very first thing considered for DHH students.  In that environment, students have direct access to instruction from teachers who not only communicate in the language of the child but are fully certified in teaching DHH students.  Additionally, the students can freely communicate with each other; there is no need for an interpreter to facilitate communication between peers. The positive psychological and emotional impact on children who are surrounded by peers who are DHH and use the same language (non similar non-disabled peers as IDEA states) is indescribable. 

The list of reasons why schools for the Deaf should be considered as the first placement option for DHH children is much longer than described above, but you get the gist.

Only after discussing this environment should the team move down the list. A public school that offers self-contained DHH classrooms with the opportunities to mainstream for specials (PE, music, etc) or a content of which the student excels is the most appropriate environment for some students. Still others may over time transition to more mainstream classes while going to a DHH classroom for certain subjects. Then, in my view, what should be discussed last, is if the student should be educated in an environment where they are the lone DHH student.

Self-contained and resource classrooms that allow for DHH peer interaction is difficult for those in rural settings where there may be only 1 or 2 DHH children in the entire district.  Thus, the establishment of regionalized programs is IMPERATIVE to meet the needs of all DHH students.

Although I have blogged about the need for regionalized programs in Kentucky, I had never laid out my vision for them. Since I have 25 more posts to write for the #AprilBlogADay challenge, I think it is time I do so.  Be on the look out!!!

If you are interested in reading some of my previous posts regarding educating DHH students, please read:

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