Wednesday, August 3, 2011

AFA Meeting with OSEP from Dept of Education (7/22/11)

Meeting of AFA Representatives with the Director of the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (July 22, 2011)

Contacts and Participants:

Weeks prior to the rally in Washington DC (July 21-23, 2011), AFA representatives contacted a number of offices connected with the Department of Education (DoE) for an opportunity to meet during this time.

While the Civil Rights section of the DoE was not responsive (would only refer us to state DoE offices), we were successful in securing a meeting with Dr. Melody Musgrove. Dr. Musgrove is the Director of the Special Education section of the Department of Education and also was a keynote presenter during the AG Bell Conference.

In preparing for the meeting, AFA invited a representative from the National Association for the Deaf (NAD) to join us. The NAD sent Sean Gerlis, NAD Region 1 Representative to participate. Others attending were AFA Representatives Ruthie Jordan and Karen Christie as well as Patricia Raswant who had provided helpful documents prior our the meeting. Attending the meeting from the Department of Education was Dr. Musgrove, Ruth Ryder, Larry Wexler, Sue Swenson and Ernest Hairson.

Purposes of our meeting:
1. We had concerns related to how the federal government has consistently denied Deaf students access to a free appropriate public educational programming in alignment with research about the language/cognitive abilities of Deaf people and recent international proclamations (ie ICED New Era, UN Rights of the Child, UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UN statement on prevention and punishment of Genocide, and WFD’s Statement on Human rights).

2. We were concerned that the DoE has not provided appropriate regulatory guidance to state and local agencies in light of recent events at Deaf schools across the United States (Deaf schools being closed or infiltrated with oral only advocates/programs)

3. We felt a need to meet with Dr. Musgrove to explain why it wasn’t cool that she was giving a keynote address at the AG Bell Conference.

AFA’s call to DoE was read aloud by Dr. Musgrove to the group.

**AFA calls upon the Department of Education

to ensure that policies/procedures/programs are, at the very least, in alignment with UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2010 ICED New Era Document, World Federation of the Deaf recognition and right to use sign languages…(copies of these documents were provided at the meeting)

to provide the guidance to state and districts whereby:

*the HUMAN RIGHTS of the Deaf child be guaranteed in the educational system
*that the human linguistic rights of Deaf children be acknowledged as the right to be bilingual in ASL (a minority language) and English (as the “official language”)
*that Deaf children have an unconditional right to be educated through the medium of their minority language within a state-financed education system (this is a Linguistic human right)
*that Deaf children have a right to profit from their educational system in particular that they achieve high levels of bi-or multi-lingualism through education

and acknowledge:
parents/guardians who make choices about their child’s education placement/medium of instruction today do not often know enough about the probable long term consequences of their choices to deem it to be voluntary and not done under pressure from the majority (see Skutnabb-Kangas 2008) ; and

any state educational program---but early intervention programs in particular---that promote an oral only approach and promotes a disuse of ASL be not supported by the Department of Education.

A review of some points made during the meeting:

AG Bell’s Listening and Spoken Language principles were reviewed and shown to also promote a disuse of sign language. Audism as a institutional practice was discussed plus AFA cards and the DBC pamphlet were handed out.

NAD representative handed out NAD position statements on American Sign Language, Early Hearing Detection and Intervention, Schools for the Deaf, Inclusion, and Dual language development.

Past Congressional Reports on the Education of Deaf Students in 1964 (Babbidge report) and 1988 (Commission on Education of the Deaf report) were reviewed with DoE emphasizing the findings of the failure of the oral only approach and the need to use ASL in the education of Deaf students. This 1988 report also included testimony, which expressed concerns that DoE was interpreting LRE as mainstreaming for Deaf children---an interpretation which often leads to the most restriction in terms of language access and socio-emotional-educational development.

Mr. Wexler responded that, at present, they did not see another Congressional report on the state of the education of Deaf students coming within the next several years.

Relevant documents were provided to DoE including Kristin Snodden’s 2008 American Sign Language and Early Intervention article (from The Canadian Modern Language Review) which points to how the medical profession and Auditory Verbal Therapy practitioners have worked together to unduly influence governmental procedures and deny Deaf children access to ASL.

In response to Dr. Musgrove’s emphasis on options and parental choice
-it was emphasized that AG Bell Association does not offer options—the only option being oral only.
-we expressed concerns that parental choice being uninformed and valued over child rights.

The Results:

This was seen as a meeting where we could make initial contacts with individuals in the DoE.

The report of the “Achievement Gap for Deaf students” from the California State of Education Address (2007) by Superintendent O’Connell was shared and included in the documents provided to DoE.

This “achievement gap,” Dr. Musgrove agreed was NOT ACCEPTABLE and that statement was the strongest statement she made during the meeting.

AFA plans to follow up with this meeting and ask for a formal response to the calls we have made upon DoE.