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June 10, 2004

Families concerned about bill changing standards for interpreters

From: Kansas City Star, MO - Jun 10, 2004

Associated Press

NEOSHO, Mo. - Families with deaf children say they are worried that legislation awaiting the governor's signature could diminish the quality of assistance their children receive at school.

The bill would allow people who are provisionally certified to work as sign-language interpreters at schools.

Complaints from school officials that it's difficult to find enough certified interpreters spurred the provision, which is part of a bill containing many changes in how public schools are run.

Karin Sack's two children rely on sign-language interpreters to participate at school, and she believes their potential to learn depends on the interpreters' abilities.

"If the interpreter is at the same level as the kids, they will not be able to advance," Sack, who is also deaf, said through an interpreter. "They would not become adults who are skilled at communication."

The bill's interpreter section would allow schools to hire someone who is seeking certification by the state. People would be required to pass written and performance tests to determine if they are at the novice, apprentice or intermediate level, and then would have up to six years to attain full certification.

Currently, a person must be certified at the intermediate level or higher to work in schools, said Amy Fowler, interpreters certification system coordinator for the Missouri Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

The bill "means that they can legally work, but it does not mean they are qualified," she said.

But McDonald County special-education director Mark Barlass said people who are certified at the intermediate level and live nearby are hard to find.

State Rep. Bryan Stevenson, R-Joplin, echoed those concerns. As long as interpreters are working toward complete certification, they should be considered a resource to the school, he said.

"There is not always a certified interpreter available in every rural district in every single classroom," he said.

Mary Gardner, a leader with the deaf ministry program at Ozark Christian College, agreed there are not enough qualified interpreters, but she said higher pay would be a better way to fill the void than changing certification standards.

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