IM this article to a friend!

March 9, 2004

Gov. Signs Bill of Rights for Deaf Children

From: ABQ Journal - Albuquerque,NM,USA - Mar 9, 2004

By Deborah Baker
The Associated Press

SANTA FE —New Mexico has enacted an educational bill of rights for deaf and hard-of-hearing youngsters.

Gov. Bill Richardson signed the measure Tuesday at a ceremony at the New Mexico School for the Deaf here.

It's intended to raise public awareness about the unique communication needs of the tiny minority of children who are deaf, and to provide a template for state agencies —including the Public Education Department —to follow when they deal with those children.

"Unfortunately, many people are ignorant about the needs of these children," the governor said. "Children born deaf face incredible hurdles as they learn language skills."

Included in the new law: the right to get services based on their unique needs, to have trained teachers and service providers, to have peers and adults they can communicate with easily, to be exposed to deaf and hard-of-hearing role models and to have access to all parts of education, including extracurricular, social and athletic activities.

"Unfortunately, deaf children have not always had these same rights to access," said Ronald Stern, superintendent of the school.

At least 10 other states have adopted similar laws or policies, according to the National Association of the Deaf.

A New Mexico task force reported last year that deaf and hard-of-hearing children do not develop effective communication and language skills, and their education isolates rather than includes them.

Mark Ramirez of Albuquerque, a 17-year-old junior who is president of the School for the Deaf's Student Body Government, said that was his experience before he attended the school.

"I went through public school and I saw what it's like to have 30 or 40 children in a classroom, and everybody was talking —and I was lost," Ramirez told the crowd of students, parents, teachers and others.

The law, which is effective May 19, also says that families are entitled to information regarding their children's educational and communication needs, as well as the available options and support services.

Of the 60,000 special education students in New Mexico, about 500 are deaf or hard-of-hearing, according to the task force report.

About 150 of them attend Albuquerque-area schools, 145 attend New Mexico School for the Deaf programs in Albuquerque, Santa Fe or Las Cruces, 20 get school services in Las Cruces, and the remainder are scattered throughout the state.

An estimated 85 to 90 percent of deaf and hard-of-hearing children have hearing parents or guardians, so many of them lack early communication and language at home, according to the task force.

One of the sponsors of the legislation, Rep. Daniel Silva, D-Albuquerque, attended the ceremony with his grandson, Thomas, who turns 4 on Wednesday and goes to a preschool operated by the New Mexico School for the Deaf.

"He's made it possible for us to realize this important need," Silva said.

Also signed by the governor was a bill that transfers the responsibility for the Telecommunications Access Fund —which pays for specialized phone service —from the General Services Department to the Commission for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Persons. The new law also shifts the commission's operational funding source from the state's general fund to the access fund.

———   The educational bill of rights measures are HB186 and SB206. The access fund bill is HB187.
   On the Net:
   AP-WS-03-09-04 1730EST