Many different types of schools and programs educate deaf and hard of hearing children. Who decides which one is best for a particular child? How is the decision made? Are there any laws that guide that decision-making process? You will find those answers here.
Placement Options: An Introduction
Some placement options for deaf and hard of hearing children include:
- Local public school classroom
- Public school classroom with resource room support
- Separate classroom in public school
- Separate nonresidential schools, public or private
- Separate residential schools, public or private
- Homebound or hospital environments
Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): This is the idea that a child with disabilities should attend the same school that he or she would if nondisabled. This environment is less restrictive than other types of schools.
Who decides the student's placement?
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), America's special education law, says that "In determining the educational placement of a child with a disability, including a preschool child with a disability, each public agency shall ensure that the placement decision is made by a group of persons, including the parents, and other persons knowledgeable about the child, the meaning of the evaluation data, and the placement options." Sec. 300.552(a)(1). In almost every case, this "group f persons" is the IEP team. Parents are a key part of the IEP team and often they will be the one to cast the deciding vote about placement.
What else does the law say?
IDEA requires two things when considering placement for deaf and hard of hearing children:
- In general, the regular public school classroom is the least restrictive environment.
- For deaf and hard of hearing children, the LRE may be different because their communication needs sets them apart from other children. The specific wording of the law is "The IEP Team shall consider the communication needs of the child, and in the case of a child who is deaf or hard of hearing, consider the child's language and communication needs, opportunities for direct communications with peers and professional personnel in the child's language and communication mode, academic level, and full range of needs, including opportunities for direct instruction in the child's language and communication mode.(IDEA, Section 300.46(a)(2)(iv).
The ideal process would start with the IEP team looking at all the student's communication needs. After the team has identified these needs, they decide the best way to address each of these needs. Then the team can discuss which school environment meets the student's needs best.
How does the IEP team decide what the student's needs are?
There are three areas of need that the IEP team needs to discuss. Those three are interrelated and cannot be looked at individually. They are:
- Academic needs: The IEP team discusses the student's academic level and identifies the language or communication mode through which the student best receives academic information.
- Social needs: The IEP team considers opportunities for interaction and direct communication with peers and adult role models.
- Communication needs: The IEP team looks at how the student communicates. This is not related to how much hearing loss the student has, but the student's preferred method of communication.
What factors should the IEP team consider when deciding on placement?
- Schools have different beliefs about the best ways to communicate with deaf and hard of hearing children. The IEP team should consider each possible placement's communication philosophy in the context of the student's and student's family's preferred communication method.
- The IEP team should look at more than one placement. Programs out of the school district, such as the state school for the deaf, may be a viable option for the student. The team should identify the pros and cons of each placement.
- The support services and accommodations the student would need in each type of placement.
- Any additional disabilities the student has. The IEP team has to consider the support services and accommodations that each type of placement offers to meet needs presented by the disability.
What challenges may the IEP team face during this process?
- Members of the IEP team may have biases about the best communication method to use with students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Those biases may affect the placement discussion when considering various schools with different communication philosophies.
- The IEP team might confuse degree of hearing loss with communication needs. Not all students with mild or unilateral hearing losses may be better off in oral-auditory environments, and not all students with profound losses may be better off in a signing environment.
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