New laws aim to improve education for deaf and hearing impaired students

TRENTON, NJ — With the goal to improve education in New Jersey schools for children who are deaf, hard-of-hearing or deaf-blind, two pieces of legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Dan Benson, Nicholas Chiaravalloti, Raj Mukherji, Ralph Caputo, Mila Jasey, Annette Quijano and Pamela Lampitt were signed into law Aug. 5 by acting Gov. Sheila Oliver.

“No longer will we treat deaf or hard-of-hearing children as second-class students or with expectations separate from that which we would have for any of our children,” said Benson, who represents parts of Mercer and Middlesex counties. “These laws help both parents and students to ensure they are receiving the best education and given the best opportunities using multi-modal means of communication at school.”

The first law, formerly A-1893, establishes a Working Group on Deaf Education to make recommendations on issues related to early linguistic developments of children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. This group, established within the Department of Education, would consist of 12 members appointed by the commissioner of education.

The group will examine, research and make recommendations to the DOE for the development of a resource guide for parents to monitor and track their children’s expressive and receptive language acquisition and developmental stages toward English literacy. The group would also select one or more early intervention assessments to be used by educators to assess the language and literacy development of deaf and hard-of-hearing children.

The law also directs the DOE, in consultation with the Department of Health, to develop a parent resource guide to help parents monitor and track deaf and hard-of-hearing children’s expressive and receptive language acquisition; be appropriate for use, in both content and administration, with deaf and hard-of-hearing children from birth to age 5; be written for clarity and ease of use by parents; be aligned to existing instruments used by school districts to assess the development of children with disabilities pursuant to federal and state law; include a statement that the parent resource is not a formal assessment of language and literacy development; and include a statement that a parent may bring the parent resource guide to a child study team meeting for purposes of sharing observations about the child’s development.

“This law will provide parents of deaf or hearing-impaired children with vital and relevant information so they can advocate for their children and ensure they meet their potential despite their challenges,” said Caputo, who represents parts of Essex County.

“The importance of reliable and up-to-date support for parents’ decisions is critical to the overall well-being of their child,” said Jasey, who represents parts of Essex and Morris counties. “This law provides both support and comfort for parents with a common interest — the well-being of their children and their education.”

In June, the measure passed the full Assembly 77-0 and the Senate 37-0.

The second law, formerly A-1896, establishes the “Deaf Student’s Bill of Rights.” This measure would require school districts to recognize the rights of students who are deaf, hard-of-hearing and deaf-blind to ensure they receive the appropriate instruction and resources to assist them academically, emotionally and socially.

“Around 96 percent of children with hearing loss are born to parents with intact hearing, who may initially know little about deafness or sign language,” said Quijano, who represents parts of Union County. “This Bill of Rights would give parents a sense of both knowledge and security when it comes to the education their children should be receiving at school.”

The measure passed the full Assembly in June by a vote of 77-0, and the Senate in January, 37-0.