Hands & Voices Asks:
What about Deaf Schools?


With Contributions from Tracy McGurran (CO H&V); Lorna Irwin (ID H&V); Erin Campion (PA H&V); and Lisa Crawford (TX H&V)

This article seeks to explore the parent perspective of four families who have chosen one specific school placement for their children - state schools for the deaf.  H&V has also investigated the considerations of mainstreaming and other settings as well, in articles that can be found on our website at www.handsandvoices.org

The percentage of children who are deaf or hard of hearing (d/hh) and placed in mainstreamed or general education programs is on the increase across the nation (see tables at end of article).  With these types of statistics, there are some who question whether State Schools for the Deaf are a viable option or indeed a ‘disappearing dinosaur’ not needed in this day and age. The topic of school placement can sometimes be a battlefield of absolutist opinions. The continuum of school choice options includes but is not limited to:

  • Regional programs, which provide the critical mass of age-appropriate and language-appropriate peers
  • State special schools for the deaf with opportunities for direct instruction and direct communication with staff and peers
  • General education placements with the necessary related and support services, such as itinerant teachers credentialed in deaf and hard of hearing education, interpreters, assistive listening technology, and so forth
  • Special day classes and resource specialist programs, as required by federal and state law, which may included reverse mainstreaming, partial mainstreaming, and team-teaching opportunities
  • Nonpublic schools, home instruction, hospital instruction, and other institutions as required by federal and state law.        

List taken from Programs for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students: Guidelines for Quality Standards, California Dept. of Ed © 2000

“School choice is subject to as many different considerations as the communication modality choice.”

School placement issues are determined during the IEP process for families. Beyond the legal aspects of this decision, families are often subject to bias about what the desired ‘school placement’ is for all deaf or hard of hearing children, just as there is bias in choices in communication. H&V families across the globe have made all different kinds of choices about school placement options, including the choice to attend a deaf school at some point during a child's schooling years. Placement should be based on the individual needs of a child; and we stand by our core value that there is not one right way to educate a child who is d/hh. The following excerpts from some parents (and yes, they are hearing parents) from around the country reflect some honest dialogue to some questions posed to them regarding the school for the Deaf placement option.

H&V: What do you think is or was the best thing about your child attending a school for the Deaf?

Lisa Crawford (TX H&V): I have to say that there are two “best things” about my daughter attending a school for the deaf-- exposure to native ASL and social/academic networking opportunities. My daughter uses sign language to communicate and when she was younger we felt it was crucial that she be exposed to native ASL signers. Even though our immediate family began using sign language in the home with her at an early age and we communicate very well with her, we knew we could not model fluent ASL and felt that was vital for her to develop her language skills. Our philosophy was that she would use her first language (sign language) to access all of her education so it had to be robust and fully developed. When my daughter was younger she attended a center-based program. All of her teachers were hearing who used sign. My impression was that they all had various levels of signing skills, but what did I really know about evaluating someone’s sign skills, when I was just learning myself? As I learned more about ASL, I soon realized that most of the teachers were signing in various sign systems rather than true ASL. There were a few hearing teachers with wonderful ASL skills and a few Deaf adult role models but no Deaf teachers. I also noticed that most hearing people who sign do not use a lot of finger spelling and most native signers fingerspell at record pace! I noticed Deaf children of Deaf parents fingerspelling as toddlers, while my daughter, when she was in third grade, did very little fingerspelling and in fact was quite resistant to it. What a difference when we moved and she started attending a school for the deaf. Many of her peers were Deaf children from Deaf families and their ASL skills were amazing. I think she was shell shocked at first and did have some trouble keeping up, but in no time at all her signing was on par with them and she has never looked back! She’s 14 now, has native-like signing skills and is doing very well academically and socially.

The second “best thing was that the school for the deaf offers my daughter access to d/hh peers, social opportunities and participation in extracurricular activities/sports and academic events. She is very active and plays volleyball, basketball and softball. She has full communication access with her coaches and teachers and has had opportunities to play in tournaments across the country at other schools for the deaf. She has participated in the national Math Counts competition and Book Wars competitions via video technology with other schools across the country. She has a national network of friends at the age of 14.

Tracy McGurran (CO H&V): There are so many ways that attending the School for the Deaf benefits my child.  First, he is a visual learner and thrives in the environment where information is naturally provided visually and tactilely. At the School for the Deaf it is just natural for the teachers to use those teaching methods that make the most sense for deaf kids. I have had the opportunity to be in the classrooms and observe the teaching methods that, while not radically different from other classrooms, are different enough to be radically deaf friendly.  Secondly, the School for the Deaf has really benefitted my son in his access to peers and role models who are deaf. School is the one place besides home where I know he does not have to struggle to be understood or to understand what is going on.  In the mainstream setting my child was consistently out of step socially; by the time he figured out the joke or the conversation things had moved on. The smaller class sizes and emphasis on hands on learning are a key component of his academic success. 

Erin Campion (PA H&V): One of the main reasons we wanted our children to attend a school for the Deaf —full time or for an abbreviated time-- was the need to establish an “identity.”  Regardless of assistive equipment or mode of communication, our children are not hearing kids.  They need to know who they are, be comfortable in that, and have the confidence to move through life from that perspective.  That wasn’t something that we, or a mainstream setting, could give to them. It was something they had to see and touch and live and “be.”  We wanted them to be an active part of the great variety and realm of d/hh children and adults. We wanted them to have direct access to Deaf role models and friends, without a third party interpreting for them.  For much of their life, they will probably be the “only one” in an academic, work, or family setting. For some time, long or short/full time or part time, we felt it was powerful and important to be “one of many.” There is always a benefit from connecting with a local school for the Deaf. We believe that because of that experience of thriving in a school for the Deaf setting that they were and are more able to thrive in other settings, too. They know who they are, they have a strong foundation, and are now comfortable to build out and up from there. Our children are now, truly, able to choose--because they have seen it all--they have been presented with all the options that are available.

In addition, knowing two languages is always a huge benefit. Public high schools require second language credits for all students.  Our d/hh child acquired two languages as a young child, when research shows it is easiest and most effective to learn. And, given their unique d/hh background, it made perfect sense to choose sign language as their second language to English. Research also shows that learning sign language builds a bridge to learning English, rather than hindering it. Our kids are ahead of their hearing peers who won’t start their “foreign” language program until high school, and it is a perfect match for the rest of their lives. Our d/hh children were also given the invaluable opportunity of learning that language in a natural environment, with native speakers, without having to leave the country!  They were able to taste the Culture, make contacts, and use the language in meaningful ways – not just on a classroom worksheet.   What a perfect scenario!

Lorna Irwin (ID H&V):  The best things--having multiple sign language models, not just parents and interpreter; adult Deaf role models; natural acquisition of social skills with direct interaction among kids; curriculum geared toward visual and hands-on learning, and not being "special."  To elaborate on this a bit: 

Our daughter Mavis was exposed to hearing teachers who had learned their sign skills in different programs and different places in the country; some used PSE, some used Signed English, some used SEE, some used ASL, and some weren't all that proficient in any system.  This drove me crazy at first, but later I realized it was actually to her benefit.  When she was 15 she attended a summer program with about 18 d/hh teens; she was one of the two who were attending a school for the deaf.  She proudly informed me that she was the only one there who could communicate with ALL the others, "even the oral kid who doesn't know sign."  (Her class for a few years included a hearing girl with a severe visual impairment, and the two of them learned how to communicate with each other by writing on the white board with big letters, or using an electronic talking dictionary.)  I also learned that sign skills do not necessarily go with teaching skills--a couple of the weaker signers were teachers she remembers as fun and challenging.

The curriculum put more emphasis on writing than my hearing kids got in school. The small class size meant that teachers actually could give frequent writing assignments and extra effort in giving feedback. In the early grades, they did short stories and essays and dialogue journals, and in high school the English class produced a school newsletter. If you have to learn written English as a second language, this is a great way to do it. Mavis actually became comfortable with written expression at a younger age than her brothers, despite their earlier acquisition of reading skills.

 “One thing you can be sure of at a school for the deaf--being deaf doesn't give your child any special privileges or attention.  Your child's other qualities are what count in this environment.”

Socially, kids teach kids a lot. Not always in the kindest way! Still, it seemed like a much more "normal" environment than one in which she would be unable to communicate with other kids without the help of an adult. The mere presence of that adult would completely change the dynamics of kid-on-kid interaction. I knew of one student who demonstrated a negative consequence of being the "special" kid at a mainstream school for too many years. He did not know the concept of sharing, or respecting other people's space or possessions. One thing you can be sure of at a school for the deaf--being deaf doesn't give your child any special privileges or attention. Your child's other qualities are what count in this environment.

H&V:  Do you have any experience with 'reverse mainstreaming' at a Deaf School?  What does this mean?

Tracy: The school that my son attends does extensive reverse mainstreaming, although he has not taken advantage of that option yet. They have arrangements with both the middle school and the high school in a local school district where the DHH centerbased program is located. Those schools have interpreters on staff and other DHH kids. My daughter attends the mainstream high school where many of the kids from my son’s school access classes. My daughter is friendly with the kids from my son’s school and tells me they are welcome and included at her high school as well.  

Lorna:   Reverse mainstreaming happened at ISDB (Idaho School for the Deaf and the Blind) at various times and in various ways when our daughter was in school, which I share about later.   We also had some creative resources sharing. The general ed high school (Gooding High School or GHS) in town had a sign class and students came to ISDB to help with the younger children. There was some back and forth for sports while Mavis was there--GHS was small enough that it couldn't field both a soccer team and a football team, so ISDB sponsored a soccer team which was mostly GHS students (the only coed, trilingual--English, Spanish and Sign--"boys" soccer team in the state!) and ISDB students who wanted to participate in football went to GHS. The GHS track team used the track at ISDB for both practices and meets. Mavis, as the only distance runner on the ISDB team, did roadwork with the GHS girls. For a couple of years, GHS did not have an art teacher, so GHS students who really wanted art came to ISDB. 

H&V:  Do you have any experience with your child attending a mainstream/center based program, but participating in school for the Deaf activities? …How do you do both?  Is it worth it?

Erin:  Our answer is YES, YES, YES, and it is worth every mindnumbing IEP and complicated bus schedule. For this short window of time, we are able to give our kids the very best of both worlds. They are experiencing the pacing and standards of their hearing peers, learn how to compete, advocate, and succeed in that environment, and are getting a fabulous taste of the “real world” that is out there after graduation.  At the same time, they are able to enjoy and thrive in the culture, support, and unbelievable opportunities that are only found in a d/hh community in a school for the Deaf.  We cannot replicate the expertise and windows to life that are available at a school for the Deaf. Each setting has so much to offer our child, and we want it all.  There are classes, activities, connections, and learning that is available at each place that is not available at the other. Our children have benefitted from having so many doors open to them.  Many times we hear of limited opportunities for d/hh children. When we are able to utilize both settings, we actually get too many opportunities and have to choose from among them all!  What a wonderful problem. So, every time we have to miraculously coordinate schedules, transportation, goals, and all the rest, it is a blessing that CAN be done and can’t be overemphasized!  Our school for the Deaf is a vital piece of that overflowing puzzle.

Tracy: When my son attended a mainstream school he did participate in activities at the School for the Deaf.  His school hosts a monthly literacy day for both Elementary and Middle school that draws kids from all over the metro area from a number of programs. Since each school sends a teacher with the kids attending, it can be a great learning experience for both students and teachers. Sports are another area where mainstream kids can really benefit from participating in programs at the School for the Deaf. My son wrestled and played soccer on hearing teams when he was younger and communication was a challenge. Now that he is older having mom or an interpreter involved is not “cool” so being able to play sports in an environment where communication is easy is huge. In addition the School for the Deaf is small and very inclusive, no one gets “cut” from the team and everyone plays (unless there are academic or behavior issues.)   There are a number of kids we know who attend other schools and participate in athletics at the school for the Deaf at both the middle school and high school level. 

H&V:  What about parents who say "I could never send my child away from home.” Please share the challenges, emotions, and resolutions of this statement from your own perspective?

Lorna:   I've heard just that statement, from the mother who drove her kid for 45 minutes to meet the ISDB bus, after which he was on the bus another 45 minutes for a total of three hours a day on the road just to sleep in his own bed at night!  I've also known parents who made the wrenching decision to start their child as a residential student at age three or four.  By living in the area, but not right in the same town, there came a time when having Mavis become residential for the length of a sports season made sense. By then she was in high school, and living at school for four nights a week was an adventure and a growth experience. (There are a couple of families I know who have sent a hearing kid to a distant school to nurture a passion for ballet or other interest not possible at our local high school. Sending a child to ISDB as a residential student is really not all that different, and represents less time away from home, since ISDB sends all kids home every weekend.)  I knew when we moved to the area that Mavis would probably want to stay in order to participate in all the after school activities once she was in high school. When the day finally came, it was much easier than I had expected. It's a balancing act--when your kid really needs the academic support and/or social environment a deaf school can offer, you need to consider the needs of the rest of the family as well. Sometimes a family can relocate, sometimes they can't.  Different families have different tolerances for time spent on the road commuting. I guess the bottom line is "never say never."  Stay open to all ideas and do what works for your child and doesn't put an unfair burden on the rest of the family.  The definition of "unfair" varies between families. School choice is subject to as many different considerations as communication modality choice.

Tracy: I am one of those people who have said, "I could never send my child away from home” and I am very fortunate that we live close to the school.  However I have many friends whose kids have attended as residential students. For each child, there came a point where the family realized that their current school situation was not meeting their child’s needs either academically or socially, or perhaps both. As a parent sometime you have to make what is a hard choice to get what your kid needs.  I hope to stay in my current community until my son graduates from high school so that he will always have the option to be a day student. However, I have to honestly say, after several years of his attending school there and the knowledge I have from being an active and involved parent, I would be comfortable sending him to his current school as a residential student if the need arose.

H&V:  Do you think kids who have cochlear implants are accepted at Schools for the Deaf?  What about Deaf kids from hearing families?

Erin:  In general, the attitudes and actions regarding d/hh children with cochlear implants or d/hh children from hearing families are changing dramatically.  Newborn hearing screening and the prevalence of implantation are dramatically changing the “face” of d/hh children in America, and that includes schools for the Deaf. Many schools now have specific programs and outreaches specially aimed for students using implants or from hearing families. They are not the minority or outsiders, they are becoming the norm. We have seen the change in our school for the Deaf toward our implanted child. He has many peers using implants as well. This has changed not only the personal feeling and actions of the school, but the academic and support services as well.  Our d/hh children will meet people who may be closed minded or unkind for the rest of their lives, whether from the d/hh or the hearing community. We can never shield them from that, and in many ways, we want to support them through tough experiences rather than isolate them from these challenges. They need to have a defense, or an offense, to meet this for the rest of their lives.  Part of our job in parenting is to teach them what to do in these situations. In general, our children (implanted or not, from a hearing family) are welcome in the school for the Deaf and are instrumental in welcoming the growing influx on students that are coming to the school from other hearing families, with and w/o CIs.  

Lisa: My child is definitely accepted and she is not treated any differently because she has a hearing family. I know this question was more specific to whether the kids are accepted but I feel another important topic is whether hearing parents feel accepted. Most deaf schools have a large number of Deaf community members who either work there or have children who attend the school. It can be intimidating for a hearing parent to enter into the Deaf community in any setting, but it is well worth it! As a hearing parent, I have to admit I do sometimes feel a bit awkward if I am the only hearing person in a crowd of deaf people. My receptive signing skills don’t always allow me to keep up with group conversations, but then I realize that many deaf people are in that situation every day when they are around hearing people. That little bit of awkwardness on my part is a small price to pay for my daughter to have full access to her education and the Deaf community. Most deaf people I encounter are very gracious about including me in their conversations and repeating or slowing down their signing if I don’t understand something, although I hate to ask them to do that! I may never be as fluent in ASL as I would like but being a part of the Deaf community has allowed me to meet so many wonderful people and has helped me maintain and improve my signing skills. I have also learned that self-advocacy skills are important to hearing parents too – we have to be able to let others know what our communication needs are in order to feel included in conversations, especially those that involve our children.

Tracy: My son has both a cochlear implant and hearing parents.  Neither seems to have been an issue for him in the four years he has attended the school for the deaf. I see kids with a great variety of communication skills, tools and methods, working and playing well together in his classes. His school teaches in ASL but does manage to accommodate kids with all kinds of skills and backgrounds and does provide ASL instruction for all elementary kids as well as for older kids who need it. My son’s school is very accommodating to hearing parents, providing adequate support from interpreters for all events and conferences. It always amazes me at parent teacher conferences to watch the variety of communication between hearing, Deaf, hard of hearing, English speaking and a sizable population of Spanish speaking parents.  Multiple interpreters for both ASL and Spanish are often required for events.  The flip side of all that for me as a hearing parent is that I continue to really need to work on my ASL skills so that I can not only communicate with my child but with his peers and teachers, without the need for an interpreter.   

H&V:  What do you say to a parent who asks, “will my child be able to achieve academically at a School for the Deaf”? 

Tracy: Academic achievement involves the school and the family as well as the student.  Just as with any other setting you as a parent are responsible ultimately for making sure that your child achieves. The school and staff are open to working with parents to make sure the students reach their academic potential but the school cannot do it without parent support and involvement.  Staying actively involved may take a little more creativity if your child is at a residential school at a distance from your home but with all the tools and technology available I strongly believe that parents can stay as involved as they want or need to be.  I have had the opportunity to be involved in the Strategic Planning process and the Accountability committee at our school for a number of years. Currently I am a member of the Strategic Plan team for the Academic Core.  There is a strong focus on improving academic outcomes for the students.   Our school uses a number of techniques and innovations to address the challenges that are seen in our unique population.  For kids who excel in one area or another there are options both in the mainstream program and with a more flexible approach to class scheduling.  For example an 8th grader who excels at Math or English might be placed in a high school math class.   To support kids who are behind in subject areas we have a Literacy lab, after school intervention and Math skills lab.

My son was in a mainstream program in part due to my desire for an academically rigorous environment.   The first year that he attended the School for the Deaf he was at his mainstream school in the morning and the Deaf school in the afternoon.   He very clearly was learning more at the School for the Deaf and enjoying it more even though he had a great teacher at his mainstream school.  After that year he transferred to the School for the Deaf fulltime.   However every year we still consider all the options.  I don’t know if the School for the Deaf (with or without some reverse mainstreaming) will always be the best option for my son but I know that it is the best option for him right now.

I have open communication with his teachers and when I think he is not challenged enough I let them know.   Because of the small class size all the students get individual attention and an opportunity to work up to their potential.  The elementary and middle kids work with other kids who are on a similar level academically, not necessarily just those that are in their grade.  

 Lisa: The answer to this is very individualized. There are many kids who enter schools for the deaf at a late age with delayed language, for whatever reason, and for those kids it can certainly be a challenge to fully overcome those delays. For many students English may be their second language and can be challenging - it is no secret that many d/hh students struggle with literacy. Varying student language skills, family involvement, teacher skills and critical mass of students all play a role in whether programs are successful.  I think there are 3 key components that need to be present for academic success – parent involvement, full access to instruction and high expectations. If a parent is an active partner in the decisions made about their child’s education then I feel the chances of success are greatly increased. Children also need full access to meaningful instruction and be held to high standards. These factors apply to any student in any school, but I think they are especially critical for d/hh students. Students can certainly be academically successful at a school for the deaf but it is imperative to make sure that their progress is continually measured and, if they fall behind, parents should request additional supports. Students at our school do take state standardized tests and also participate in other internal testing measures and outcome data is shared with stakeholders of the school.

Erin:  When our children apply for a job, there is not a deaf/hh pile of applications and a hearing pile of applications.  Our children need to be able to compete with all their peers for all jobs in all realms.  We have been very open and forthright with our school for the Deaf in our desire to know where our children are, compared to all other children.  Our school has been very supportive of that aspect.  They are willing to show and share test results, have the students participate in state standards, and are open to looking at mainstream curriculum, graduation requirements, and levels...sometimes, they are even more willing than the mainstream environment.  If the parents are cognizant and determined in their expectations for their children, as well as diligent in their monitoring, they can imbed those items into their child’s education…either directly at the school for the Deaf or supplementally at a different time.  Plus, it needs to be something parents are actively pursuing regardless of where their child attends! We utilize the school for the Deaf for the things that they do best and then find other resources for things that we feel need to be augmented.  In the end, our school for the Deaf has been very supportive of our goals for our children, in meeting those goals or in helping them achieve them somewhere else.  They have been very open in all academic discussions and have shared a true passion in the achievement of our children.

Lorna:   For our daughter, academic achievement depended mostly on the availability of talented teachers in any given year and secondarily on classmates. We knew going into this school that we weren't choosing it for academic reasons, but figured we could supplement academics with some targeted homeschooling. We knew we could NOT provide the rich language and social environment she would get at ISDB. The first few years of elementary school were not too good; then she was joined by a Deaf of Deaf classmate who moved up a grade just as the two of them started a run of exceptional teachers. The combination of classmate and teacher pushed her ahead.

Middle school was still fairly good, but the academic challenge problems re-surfaced with a vengeance in high school. She described high school as "more middle school." ISDB coordinated with the local school district to offer mainstream opportunities for students. ISDB provided the transportation and interpreters, and Gooding High School offered classroom seats. We encouraged Mavis to try a public school class a couple of times before high school, but both times she got cold feet and we didn't push it. By her freshman year in high school she was interested in biology, and ISDB did not offer the college prep math and science classes she would need. Feeling she was ready to take the plunge, I "bribed" her. She didn’t want to take the "Teen Living” class, and the only way to modify the set freshman schedule at ISDB was to take a class at GHS. She also signed up for algebra, which meant reading had to happen there with the sophomores and filling in the last period of the day as yearbook photographer, all pluses over what she'd be doing otherwise. Initially the algebra class at GHS was a shock--she could barely read the textbook, which was written at a much higher reading level than the textbooks ISDB used. She was staying in the dorms for the first time (soccer team) and helping her friends with their algebra class homework. She quickly realized that the GHS class was much more challenging, and that she was learning more by being there. She put in the extra effort, and the textbook became understandable. She described it as "like a brick wall coming down," and I'm still not sure exactly what happened or why. Over the next few years, she added more classes at GHS. She eventually attended nearly full time, taking just one class back at ISDB for her junior and senior years. Her reading level shot up at two years ahead for each school year. Later she told me she never would have survived her first year in college (CSUN, a mainstream program) without this experience.

Sounds wonderful--but this was a very rough period in her life, and actually led to some negative feelings about ISDB and being deaf in general. The other downside of a school for the deaf for some students is that the close personal attention they get can cross the line into micromanagement and patronization.  This line is different for every child, but most teenagers resent being overtly managed.  At the public school there was no "payback time" for a missed assignment--just a bad grade. She didn't have to pay attention in class.  Failure was an option, and success meant more as a consequence. She came to the conclusions that not only were hearing students more capable academically (in her mind) but that they were treated more like adults.  Neither of these conclusions is conducive to positive feelings about being deaf. She was actually quite angry for a number of years, feeling she'd been robbed of a full education and treated like a child. On the plus side, she was determined to make up for lost time, and she certainly did.

H&V: Will my child be safe at a school for the Deaf? 

Lisa: I think kids are safest when they have full language skills/communication access, which in turn allows for meaningful discussions about how to stay safe, and what is considered appropriate behavior. I think any child who can’t communicate well is more likely to be a target of abuse, whether they are at a school for the Deaf or not.

Tracy:  Is your child safe at your neighborhood school? That answer varies. A parent should investigate any school considered for a child and determine that for him or herself. I am very comfortable that my son is safe at school. But I personally know the staff and many of the children so I have a good basis for making that determination. Each situation and school varies, as do the needs for each child. You need to do your job as a parent and know your school and staff, and what goes on there. Make sure you can communicate well with your child and that you know their friends and their interests. Invest in the technology that will allow you to communicate with your child freely when they are at school and then make use of it.  

Lorna:   He'll be as safe as he would be at summer camp, perhaps safer.  Yes, bad things happen, once in a great while, just like they do in any environment, including your local public school.  But--the school runs background checks on employees, and the small student-to-teacher/supervisor ratio means that there are lots of adults watching out for your kid.  He won't get lost in the crowd if he's having some kind of problem.   The important thing here is to keep the lines of communication open and listen to your child if he has concerns.  Make sure YOU discuss safety issues with him; don't depend on the school for this.  Be aware that some of the other children will have issues due to inability to communicate with their own families.  We had one experience with some bullying that was handled well by school personnel, which I think of every time there's a national news story about bullying ignored until it results in tragedy. 

H&V: What about values and morals?  How will our family’s values be maintained at a residential placement?

Lorna:   Values and morals--this is what your weekends and school vacations are for modeling!  Dorm supervisors expect general good behavior, and the biggest complaint of students at a school for the deaf is that they are too closely supervised and not allowed all the freedoms that they would have at home. Your child may be able to attend church during the week--your permission is needed, and you specify which church. Again, it's a matter of keeping the lines of communication open at home. I know some families fall into the trap of doing lots of special things, providing treats and trips on weekends to "make up" for the time that their child was away from home. Just do what you would do if the child was home all the time, and expect him to participate in chores and other normal life activities. Make it clear when the standards at home are different from those at school that he is expected to measure up in both environments.

Tracy: Interesting question. I strongly feel that parents who communicate and interact with their kids and their kids’ friends are the strongest influence on those kids. So you as a parent need to figure out how to maintain strong communication with your child, get to know their friends and the dorm supervisors. Make sure you have the skills and are making the time to have meaningful interaction with your kids when they are home, make sure the whole family makes the effort to include your child when they are home. Maintain your skills in ASL or whatever communication method your child PREFERS so that they are comfortable talking with you about things other than “What’s for dinner?”    

Lisa:  Good communication with residential staff about your family’s expectations and good communication at home are key. You must be able to share your values and morals directly with your child.

H&V:  When a child is doing well academically in a mainstream setting, but feeling isolated socially-- should a family be considering a school for the Deaf?

Lisa: That is one option. It would certainly be worth a visit to the school and worth talking to other parents with children attending that school. I always had heard that social factors became more pronounced at about third and fourth grades, and I did experience that with my daughter. Middle school can be especially challenging for kids and social isolation can become severe if not addressed. Other options may be to seek out camps or after school activities that are accessible to your child.

Tracy: Regardless of your current situation you should always be considering all the options for your child. Social opportunities can be easily as important as academic. So yeah, you should consider it. And weigh the pros and cons, along with looking at other possible options in your community in terms of schools and extracurricular activities.

H&V:  What about children with additional disabilities? Will they be welcomed at the School?

Tracy: Very much depends on the school. Our State school has many children with a variety of challenges and does a good job including them in both classroom and extracurricular activities.   In our time here I have even seen kids from the School for the Blind participate on the HS Football and MS Volleyball teams. However, from what I have seen/heard some deaf schools are less welcoming than others to kids with additional challenges. 

Erin: It has been our experience that d/hh children with multiple disabilities are actually more included and welcome at the school for the Deaf than in most other settings. Our school for the Deaf has a specific program to meet the needs of these students. These students are an active and valued part of the entire school for the Deaf.  That is another benefit from my children attending the school for the Deaf…they are learning and living compassion and generosity. In addition, class size is usually smaller at a school for the Deaf. That is a benefit to both d/hh children with multiple disabilities or without. The individualized attention and extra focus can be crucial in a child’s education.  In addition, the staff at the school for the Deaf is highly qualified and capable of dealing with any d/hh student. The teachers are not dependent on a special training when all of a sudden a deaf/hh child shows up in their classroom. All kids benefit from that level of specialization, including mine.  

Lisa:  At the school my daughter attends there are many children with additional disabilities and we have a wonderful program and staff that are very experienced with this population. It can be difficult for some local programs to meet the needs of these children, based on availability of qualified staff, but at the school for the deaf they have the benefit of having a critical mass of students. Due to the high number of students who are served, the school has the ability to attract experienced staff and has access to other resources. The school makes every effort to include all students in after-school activities to promote social development and activities are designed so that all can participate.

By Janet DesGeorges, Hands & Voices national - with contributions from Tracy McGurran (CO H&V); Lorna Irwin (ID H&V); Erin Campion (PA H&V); and Lisa Crawford (TX H&V)


Percent of Students ages 6-21 with hearing impairments served under IDEA, Part B by educational environment and state.

Year >80% in regular class 40-79% <40% Separate Facility































Fall 2003^





Fall 2006^





Fall 2007^





Fall 2008^





Source: *US Department of Education, OSEP, Data Analysis System, Table AB2; www.ideadata.org Table 2-2f (50 states, DC, BIE)


Gallaudet Research Institute (GRI)
Annual Report (2007-08)

Students in special or center school:


Students in general ed setting w/hearing students:


Self-contained classroom in general ed setting:

Resource room: 9.60%
Home: 2.10%


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