This month, a hit television show put a spotlight on a topic rarely discussed in the media: threats to schools for the deaf across the nation. This critically important issue was the main story in Switched at Birth, a popular show on ABC Family. The March 4th episode was aired entirely in American Sign Language and the story was so popular it even had its own hashtag: #takebackcarlton.
The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) strongly believes that every educational opportunity must be available to all deaf and hard of hearing children to ensure optimal achievement. In protecting all opportunities, the NAD notes that schools for the deaf serve a critical role and must be preserved. Many school districts retain deaf and hard of hearing students in their programs when some of these students need a more accessible classroom, and as a result, these students fall behind and are then sent to the school for the deaf late in their educational development. The NAD has issued a position statement on the importance of schools for the deaf.
In this day and age of economic cuts, the closure of educational programs and state schools for the deaf has been viewed as a convenient way to reduce state budgets. Over the past fifteen years, five state schools for the deaf have been closed and numerous others have experienced cuts as well as the threat of closure. Closing such schools actually result in increased long term costs for states rather than serving as a cost-saving measure and, more importantly, result in severe educational deficits for many deaf and hard of hearing children.
As Marlee Matlin’s character on the Switched at Birth emphasized, a school for the deaf is a place where deaf kids can be just kids, and where they do not need to be reminded of their being deaf every single moment. They can be there to be themselves and to learn.
“Education is our number one priority,” said NAD President Chris Wagner, “and we will not rest until deaf and hard of hearing students have full access to equal educational opportunities.”
“While every educational placement should be available to parents and their deaf and hard of hearing children, appropriate expertise should be used to properly evaluate the unique needs of each deaf and hard of hearing student to determine the optimal placement for complete achievement of the student’s full potential,” emphasized Howard A. Rosenblum, NAD Chief Executive Officer.
The NAD supports the Child First campaign initiated by the Conference of Educational Administrators of Schools and Programs for the Deaf (CEASD), which is an organization of leaders of schools and programs serving deaf and hard of hearing children. The Child First campaign is an effort to restore a focus on the individual needs of each child first before any monetary or ideological debate. Every local school district and the federal government has to place the highest importance on the language, communication, developmental, and emotional needs of each individual deaf or hard of hearing student.
“The Child First campaign stresses language access and placement that is humanely and educationally right for each deaf/hard of hearing child. Schools for the deaf must be a viable educational option because they have unique features meeting the needs of these children, ” stated CEASD President Ronald Stern, who serves as the Superintendent of the New Mexico School for the Deaf.
The NAD is truly appreciative that ABC Family and Switched at Birth has brought great attention to the importance of schools for the deaf, in addition to the remarkable first of an all ASL episode! The NAD hopes that the resulting media attention on this critical issue brings about community action to preserve schools for the deaf across the country. For more information about how you can help us promote quality education for deaf and hard of hearing children, check out our website at www.nad.org including our education blog and also go to the Child First campaign.