"This Aint Cool..."

This article recently appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune; at the bottom I will give my personal thoughts on the matter...tastefully I hope...
"Complaint filed against Utah Schools for Deaf and Blind"
-Salt Lake Tribune, 6/9/2009

Parents, advocacy group ask state to fix alleged injustices. Imagine braving that first day of chemistry without a textbook. All the other kids have one, but yours is on back order.

Or imagine being excluded from practice tests. And when test day arrives, the questions are illegible. Just do your best and guess, the teacher says.

These are other injustices are alleged in a 14-page complaint filed Tuesday by the National Federation for the Blind, urging the Utah State Office of Education to fix long-standing, deeply rooted problems at Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind.

The problems constitute a violation of state and federal laws guaranteeing blind and visually impaired children a 'free, appropriate education,' the complaint alleges.

The state has 60 days to investigate and respond. No one is threatening legal action, although that would be the next step.

'Our hope is we can sit at the table and mediate a solution to all this,' says Denise Colton, vice president of Utah Parents of Blind Children, an affiliate of the National Federation for the Blind.

Officials at the schools for the deaf and blind did not immediately respond for comment Tuesday.

The deaf and blind schools serve more than 1,400 students throughout the state, most of them enrolled in neighborhood schools and public charter schools. They supply Braille textbooks and other instructional tools, technologies and tutoring. And they collaborate with teachers to evaluate students and map their education plans and progress.

But no formal agreement exists between the deaf and blind schools and local districts, leading to educational disparities and confusion over who pays for services and who is responsible for providing them, say parents behind the complaint.

Arbitrary 'first-come, first-serve' rules dictate when students get Braille books, embossers and electronic note taking equipment, parents say.
Colton says her 16-year-old daughter, Katie, went more than four months this year without a geometry book. And though textbook shortages are common in Utah's underfunded schools, the Park City mom says visually impaired children don't have the luxury of sharing texts.

Blind students also are often excluded from practice tests. Even when instructional aids are available, teachers aren't always trained to use them, say parents. And there's little quality control to ensure Braille translations are accurate.

Pat Renfranz says her 13-year-old daughter, Caroline, has complained over the years about Braille exams with illegible or missing information. This year, Renfranz was able to convince Granite School District officials to preserve the tests and have them proofread.

'So at least we're making some headway,' said Renfranz. 'But I feel it's only because Caroline was confident enough in her test-taking skills that anybody knows there's a problem with these tests.'

"Teachers aren't to blame. The problem is inadequate training", says Mike Palmer, the father of two blind children attending a public charter school. 'It's not like our word against theirs. Teachers are nervous about evaluating students. They say 'I've never done this before.' '

The complaint alleges some students are never evaluated, the first step toward securing special academic support. Others are screened by untrained, unlicensed people.

As a result, students with progressive blindness or residual vision are denied early training in Braille, said Ron Gardner, president of the national federation's Utah chapter.

It's a 'wait to fail' model that Gardner has fought for years. Parents have been afraid to come forward for fear of being perceived as turning on the school system.

But frustrations have reached 'critical mass,' they say. 'We are not asking for special treatment. ...We are only asking that the state do what is required by law and create a level playing field where our children can succeed on their own merits,' said Marla Palmer, president of Utah Parents of Blind Children.

The National Federation of the Blind filed a complaint against the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind, alleging violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Among the group's suggested remedies:
-Work with a national consultant to audit student evaluations annually for five years.
-Train and certify public school teachers to evaluate students for eligibility for academic support.
-Hire more certified Braille transcribers, proofreaders and teachers.
-Require USDB to collect and report 'reliable' outcomes data.
-Creation of a binding interagency agreement between school districts and the program that serves deaf and blind students.

D's Thoughts: I, myself, attended the Utah School for the Deaf and Blind, but only for my preschool year (that's when I used to take a Taxi to school, how cool is that!?!). I am wicked upset that blind kids are STILL not getting regular textbooks in the classroom. No matter how you say it...Surfer Style: "This is totally not cool, not cool at all dude," Hillbilly Style: "I reckon dis ain't ner bit good." Gangsta Style: "You fronten' man, this aint dope...fo real!" Valley Girl Style: "This is like totally like way totally lame, like seriously."

Ok, all joking aside, this a serious issue and one that's been around far too long. No matter how you say it, it's NOT ok for blind kids to be getting their textbooks half way through the school year, or NOT be able to read their test because the Braille is wrong or that they are NOT getting the same education as their friends and classmates.

And folks...it's not just happening here in Utah, it's time to take a stand and let those who are accountable for the pathetic literacy rate among the blind to do something about it!

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