If your son or daughter is deaf or has some degree of hearing loss, you should know New Jersey has just established a Deaf Student’s Bill of Rights.

Peggy McDonald, the deputy assistant commissioner of student services for the state Department of Education, said the bill spells out that students must be offered “access to direct instruction in their preferred communication mode, which might be through speaking and listening or it might be through American Sign Language.”

She explained the Bill of Rights requires school districts to provide equity assistance and access to all kids who have any problem hearing.

“It also includes things like ensuring parents have information about the full range of communication options they have when their child is diagnosed with a hearing loss," she said.

She said the goal is to make sure parents become active participants in making decisions about their kids’ education.

McDonald said every student in the Garden State goes through a hearing screening annually, from kindergarten through the 3rd grade, but if at any point “a teacher or a staff member or a parent thinks a student might have a more significant disability, they can refer that student for a more in-depth evaluation.”

She said depending on the specific situation, a team of educators would determine “what assessments and evaluations that student would get to identify their needs and identify the impact of that hearing problem on their learning."

Based on those assessments and evaluations, a plan is developed that is reviewed annually.

“In that plan would be any assessments that particular student might need to see how well they’re doing in things like communication and all their academic areas," she said.

A Department of Education coordinator and a consultant for deaf education will be traveling across the state to raise awareness about the bill of rights and answer questions about districts' obligations.

Most kids who have hearing impairment are born to hearing parents, so they have to “go through an educational process themselves and make very critical decisions about whether they want their children to learn sign language or to only focus on learning speaking and listening," McDonald said.

Additionally, the Bill of Rights requires opportunities for deaf students to meet with their peers in the school environment and during school sponsored activities, and have access to mental health services and support services from qualified and certified providers fluent in the student’s primary mode of communication, including American Sign Language.

McDonald said New Jersey has more than 1,500 hearing impaired students receiving special education, but there are also no doubt several hundred more with a spectrum of hearing loss issues.

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