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Doing Your Homework
Shouldn't a Deaf Child Be Taught by a Teacher?

by Suzanne Heath, Research Editor, Wrightslaw

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"My child is deaf and low functioning. Her IEP Team wants to use an interpreter as her teacher. I think she needs to be taught by a teacher. Can you help?"

Sue Answers

Interpreters are not teachers.

It is ridiculous that your child's IEP team wants to design an individualized education program (IEP) that does not include instruction by a teacher.

Regular Ed Teachers as Members of the IEP Team

This is why the IDEA requires that your child's IEP team include a regular education teacher. Your daughter needs to be taught by a teacher or teachers - most likely by regular education teachers and by a special education teacher who has expertise in teaching children who are deaf or hearing impaired.

Interpreters provide the "related services" children need to benefit from special education. Providers of related services include speech-language therapists, audiologists, psychologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, school social workers, and school nurses. While these individuals provide important services, in most cases, they are not teachers.

High-Need Children Need Skilled Teachers

You are right. Your daughter has complex learning needs. She needs a teacher who is well-trained and skilled in teaching children who are deaf or hearing impaired, not an interpreter.

Read What You Need to Know about IDEA 2004: Highly Qualified Teachers & Research Based Instruction. This article describes new language in IDEA 2004 that is designed to ensure that children with disabilities are taught by highly qualified teachers and receive research based instruction. The article also describes new requirements for personnel training, IEPs, and scientifically based instruction.

This chart describes the required qualifications for special education teachers:

Why Isn't Your Child Being Taught Grade Level Material?

Why isn't your child being taught grade level material? The statement that she is "low functioning" does not mean she cannot learn. She is likely to need a highly-trained, skilled teacher to learn.

The law requires your child's IEP to include a statement of "how the child's disability affects the child's involvement and progress in the general education curriculum." The IEP must include measurable annual goals that meet the child's needs that result from her disability "to enable the child to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum."

The IEP must include "an explanation of the extent, if any, to which the child will not participate with nondisabled children in the regular class. (20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(1)(A); Wrightslaw: IDEA 2004, page 90-91)

2004 requires that "All children with disabilities are included in all general State and districtwide assessment programs ... with appropriate accommodations" and includes requirements for alternate assessments. (20 U.S.C. 1412(a)(16); Wrightslaw: IDEA 2004, page 69-70)

Here are some questions you need to answer.

Do you have an evaluation that says your daughter cannot learn grade level material, even with the best instruction delivered by a highly skilled teacher?

Was the evaluator who made this determination qualified to do so?

Did the IEP team decide that they cannot design a program to teach your child grade level material?

If your child cannot learn grade level material, is she learning all that she can under the present IEP?

Will your child learn more if she is taught by a teacher who is skilled in teaching deaf children with complex learning needs or by an interpreter?

Success Story: Helen Keller & Annie Sullivan

I ask these questions because many special educators believe children with disabilities, especially those with significant or multiple disabilities, cannot learn. If you are dealing with school personnel who have low expectations for your child, read Success Story: Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan.

Your Child's IEP & Research Based Instruction

Look at your daughter's academic skills, functional skills, and educational needs as described in the evaluations that have been completed on her. Is she making progress? How much?

Your child's IEP must include a statement (description) of the special education and related services (i.e. speech therapy, an interpreter) and supplementary aids and services, based on peer reviewed research to the extent practicable. (20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(1)(A)(IV); Wrightslaw: IDEA 2004, page 90-91)

What peer reviewed research is the IEP team using to support their proposal to use an interpreter, not a trained teacher, to educate your deaf child who is "low functioning."

Educate and Join Other Parents

Make sure other parents of children with disabilities in your school and school district have accurate information about the legal requirements for IEPs, research based instruction and highly qualified teachers. While it is difficult to raise a school's standards for one child, it is often easier to raise standards for the entire school.

Indiana advocate Pat Howey described this process in Feeling Guilty About Asking for Services? Remember the Domino Effect. In her article, Pat describes the lessons she learned from her child's due process hearing, how parent advocates can force the system to change, and how this will benefit many children whom you may never know.

Make sure that other parents know the academic standards. Require your school board to meet the highly qualified requirements for teachers of all children in your district.

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Please print and read these articles. Highlight the important parts. Make copies and take them to the next IEP meeting (make more copies than your team needs and leave more copies to educate the next team).

Make copies for other parents.


What You Need to Know About IDEA 2004: IEPs, Highly Qualified Teachers & Research Based Instruction - Learn about new language in IDEA 2004 that is designed to ensure that children with disabilities are taught by highly qualified teachers and receive research based instruction. This article includes new requirements for personnel training, IEPs, and scientifically based instruction.

What You Need to Know About IDEA 2004: IEPs, IEP Teams, IEP Meetings - This article describes changes to Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) in several areas including content of IEPs, IEP meeting attendance, review and revising IEPs.

Highly Qualified Teachers

What You Need to Know About IDEA 2004: Highly Qualified Special Education Teachers - An overview of the legal requirements for highly qualified special education teachers from IDEA 2004.

Toolkit for Teachers - This publication from the U. S. Department of Education is designed to answer questions about the "highly qualified teacher" requirements, testing, reading, scientifically based research, English language learners, Reading First grants, safe schools, and more.

Highly Qualified Teachers: Improving Teacher Quality - Non-Regulatory Guidance - While you may be tempted to overlook this publication from the U. S. Department of Education, we urge you to read it. It will answer many of your questions - and it's clearly written in a Q & A format. (Rev. August 03, 2005)

Created: 04/03/06

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Meet Sue Whitney

Sue Whitney of Merrimack, New Hampshire, is the research editor for Wrightslaw.

Sue is the co-author of Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind (ISBN: 978-1-892320-12-4) that is published by Harbor House Law Press.

In Doing Your Homework, she writes about reading, research based instruction, No Child Left Behind, and creative strategies for using federal education standards to advocate for children and to improve public schools. Her articles have been reprinted by SchwabLearning.org, EducationNews.org, Bridges4Kids.org, The Beacon: Journal of Special Education Law and Practice, the Schafer Autism Report, and have been used in CLE presentations to attorneys. Sue Whitney's bio.

Sue has served on New Hampshire's Special Education State Advisory Committee on the Education of Students/Children with Disabilities (SAC) and has been a volunteer educational surrogate parent. She currently works with families as a special education advocate.

Copyright © 2002-2015 by Suzanne Whitney.

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