Date: Mon Jul 26, 1999 5:49
SignWriting List Forum
Subject: Sign Language issue
Hi Signwriting List,
I read this article. It is very interesting. I thought I might want to read
Schools for the deaf sued by parent over sign language
Sandy Farrow of Hatteras Island has filed civil rights complaints with the
U.S. Department of Education against the N.C. Department of Public
Instruction and all three residential schools for the deaf, including
Eastern N.C. School for the Deaf in Wilson.
The action rises out of frustration at trying to find a school setting
where her son, Justin, would be able to communicate with his teachers and
"I have been fighting with the state and the ENCSD to have my child
receive American Sign Language, his native language he used as a
preschooler when we lived outside the Boston area, where deaf people are
appreciated and treated as human beings," she told an interviewer.
She and her husband decided to enroll Justin at ENCSD for the 1998-1999
academic year because Cape Hatteras Elementary School, which he attended
for four years, had not provided a qualified sign language interpreter for
"This was very hard for my family," she said. "We are very close and to
not have your 9-year-old sitting at the table with you for dinner was just
like feeling that he was dead.
"But my husband and I did it so he could be exposed to other deaf children
and to American Sign Language."
When she realized that many school for the deaf staff members lacked
fluency in ASL, she thought her family's sacrifice had been in vain.
"One half of the staff took the SCPI test (which assesses proficiency in
ASL) and only one third of them passed on the beginning level," she said.
"And these are student contact staff."
Steve Witchey, superintendent of ENCSD, referred questions on the
allegations to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, which is
coordinating the responses of the residential schools for the deaf to the
complaint. DHHS oversees the residential schools for the deaf.
Mrs. Farrow has filed complaints against all three schools for the deaf
and DPI because her class-action complaint is on behalf of all deaf and
hard-of-hearing students in the state. She named DPI in her complaint
because it oversees instruction of deaf students in the local public
Her specific allegations against DPI are that it requires a "one size fits
all" approach to teaching the deaf and hard of hearing, that it does not
permit local school districts to teach academic classes in ASL, Cued
Speech (used by deaf students who are being taught to speak) or Signed
Exact English, that it does not have administrators who are qualified to
judge whether teachers are able to communicate with deaf students and that
it has no guidelines for the training of staff in teaching and providing
other services to the deaf.
According to the allegations, DPI also fails to provide guidance to local
districts in how to meet the needs of deaf and hard of hearing students.
Lowell Harris of DPI said that the agency has little control over
decisions made by local school districts.
"We provide assistance to all school systems," he said. "You're always
going to have disagreements when parents feel that their children are not
getting the services they need."
His department is always concerned that children get the services they
need. He encourages parents to work with their local schools and their
Individualized Education Plan committees to see to it that their
children's needs are met.
Mrs. Farrow also alleges that DPI does not allow more than one disability
to be addressed on deaf students' Individualized Education Plans, so that
students who need services for other disabilities do not always get the
help they need.
Federal law dictates that IEPs be as complex as they need to be to meet
each student's needs. Harris said DPI complies with federal law and allows
for more than one disability on an IEP.
The schools for the deaf are also charged with not having faculty who are
trained in communicating with the deaf and hard of hearing and not
allowing more than one disability to be identified on student IEPs.
Mrs. Farrow alleges that the state discriminates against students with
hearing impairments based on their disability, which is against federal
The U. S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights has decided
that Mrs. Farrow's charges merit investigation. It is seeking parents of
other deaf students in the state who wish to join in the class action. The
lead investigator, Deborah Smith, is particularly interested in knowing
how other deaf students have fared in public schools, either local or
residential, in the state.
When a civil rights complaint is filed, the Office of Civil Rights has a
number of options as to what steps to take. At any point in the
investigation process, the complaint can be closed if the recipient of the
charges agrees to a Commitment to Resolve that is acceptable to the Office
of Civil Rights.
If the issues are not settled through voluntary compliance or mediation,
the Office of Civil Rights can bring suit. If it decides not to sue, Mrs.
Farrow will then have the right to bring a civil suit against the schools.
Terry Hodges, Americans with Disabilities Act program director for DHHS,
said his job is to make that the department complies with Title 2 of the
ADA. He is coordinating the department's response to the investigation.
DHHS has been working for several years on establishing a policy on how
proficient staff members at the school need to be in sign language, but it
is just in the process of being implemented. It calls for a higher level
of proficiency for teachers.
However, any staff members who may have contact with students, including
janitors, must be able to communicate with students on at least a minimal
level. This is so students can communicate with staff members in emergency
"It's not a hard directive," said Hodges. "It's a helpful directive. Those
are necessary standards."
He sees the availability of money as one of the problems in hiring staff
members who are fluent enough in ASL to satisfy the deaf community.
Some deaf people identify themselves as a distinct culture, like an ethnic
group, with ASL as their native language.
"It's hard to mandate culture," said Hodges. "We are a state school." He
said that in a democracy, one segment can't dictate how scarce public
resources are used to benefit a larger group.
This makes his job a sticky one.
"When you're talking about something that affects culture, it's a very
emotional issue," he said.
You may reach Margaret J. Stair at