TRENTON – Two bills sponsored by Senate Education Committee Vice Chair Shirley K. Turner that would address the educational rights and needs of deaf students were approved today by the Senate Education Committee.
“In the entire state of New Jersey, there is only one public school exclusively for students with hearing disabilities, the Marie Katzenbach School for the Deaf. And as a result of Supreme Court rulings that required students to be taught in the least restrictive environments, more students with hearing disabilities are being taught in integrated classrooms,” said Senator Turner. “We need to meet those students right where they are challenged and as early as possible, to best support their social, emotional, cultural and academic development and launch them into successful life trajectories.”
The first bill, S-2044, would require school districts to recognize the rights of students who are deaf, hard of hearing and deaf-blind by creating the “Deaf Student’s Bill of Rights.”
The bill specifies that the “Deaf Student’s Bill of Rights” would include rights for the students’ access to appropriate screening, assessment and early intervention; opportunities to associate with deaf adult role models as well as school peers; direct instruction or access to those fluent in the child’s mode of communication; an Individualized Education Program communication plan, placement that provides the best social, emotional and cultural environment; and for the availability of a full spectrum of educational programs and services, and mental health providers fluent in American Sign Language.
The second bill, S-2045, would establish a Working Group on Deaf Education in the Department of Education for the purpose of making recommendations on issues related to the early linguistic development of children who are deaf or hard of hearing. The working group would consist of 12 members appointed by the Commissioner of Education whose duty would be to examine, research and make recommendations to the DOE for:
a) the development of a parent resource guide for parents to monitor and track deaf and hard of hearing children’s expressive and receptive language acquisition and developmental stages toward English literacy; and
b) the selection of one or more early intervention assessments to be used by educators to assess the language and literacy development of deaf and hard of hearing children.
The bill would direct the DOE to make the parent resource guide publicly available on its website, to disseminate the selected assessments to school districts and to provide materials and training on their use. It would also require annual data collection and reporting by the DOE on the language acquisition and developmental progress of deaf or hard of hearing children from age two to five, and by the Early Intervention Program in the Department of Health for infants and toddlers from birth to age two.
Currently 16 states have a “Deaf Student’s Bill of Rights,” including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Virginia, and Texas.
“These bills recognize the unique communication and language needs of deaf and hard of hearing children,” said Senator Turner. “They would assist those children and their families as first steps in providing a customized path toward full participation in our society.”
Both bills were approved with a unanimous 5-0 vote and head to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration.