Children with hearing difficulties often find themselves at a significant disadvantage in mastering reading and writing skills. The acquisition of these language skills is crucial to the achievement of overall academic success, and House Bill 317 — sponsored by Representatives Hugh Blackwell, Susan Martin, Bryan Holloway, and Jean Farmer-Butterfield — will ensure that these children get the same opportunities other kids do so they can become independent and productive adults. Representative Moffitt was proud to co-sponsor the legislation.
Learners are sometimes classified in terms of incidence, or how many students with any particular disability or combination of disabilities are in a school system at any one time. Low-incidence disabilities include blindness/low vision, deafness/hard-of-hearing, deaf/blindness, significant developmental delay, complex health issues, serious physical impairment, multiple disability, and autism. By definition, they do not occur as often in a community as high incidence disabilities (such as attention deficient disorder or emotional disorders), but children with low-incidence disabilities usually require highly specialized services, equipment, and materials from the age of onset. Children with these “low-incidence” disabilities make up approximately one percent of the total statewide enrollment in public schools.
The process for determining the educational placement for children with low-incidence disabilities is the same process used for determining the educational placement for all children with disabilities. That is, each child’s educational placement must be determined on an individual case-by-case basis depending on each child’s unique educational needs and circumstances. No child may be denied access to the general education curriculum.
Children who have a solid language base — regardless of whether it is spoken or signed — become better readers than those who do not. Skill in signing or speaking does not guarantee skill in reading and writing, and reading and writing must be taught using the individual child’s mode of communication: speech, sign language, or some combination of those. All children who come to school and who are not proficient in reading and writing English (including children whose spoken language is not English and children who use non-English American Sign Language or other combined signing systems) must receive specialized instruction in order to read and write English.
Because a hearing-impaired child in North Carolina may also be classified as having a primary disability other than hearing loss for purposes of special education, he or she may not be tracked within existing Department of Public Instruction databases as having a hearing loss. This presents a challenge to effectively monitoring the child’s language development and literacy achievement. With this bill, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) team made up of parents (or guardians) teachers, special education teachers, principals, case managers, and other specialists will annually assess how the child’s disability affects her or his learning.
If the team determines the child’s hearing loss is the reason that the child has not attained proficiency in reading and writing English, then the child may be eligible for special education services. The IEP is a program of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Children who are deaf or hard of hearing may also be best served by interacting with their peers who communicate similarly, and HB317 also provides opportunities for these children to interact with adult role models who are deaf or hard of hearing.