Meet Maverick
Maverick MacDonald is four years old and uses American Sign Language (ASL), and the MacDonalds are already facing struggles to ensure his Individual Education Plan [IEP] meets his needs. Many Deaf children who attend mainstream programs have an IEP, which is essentially a roadmap to success tailored for that particular child. As a parent, the IEP meeting is often the best time to go over different goals and objectives for the child to create a successful educational experience.

Unethical Practices at the First School
The El Paso Regional Day School Program for the Deaf Program [RDSPD] claims that they only use Signing Exact English, which is their ideology; the MacDonalds, however, have specifically requested for ASL to be added to Maverick’s IEP. Even after being asked to do so numerous times, RDSPD staff reportedly still has not specified in the IEP what sign language is being used to communicate with Maverick at school. The MacDonalds also emphasize that their son’s previous teacher of the Deaf stated to them, “He has picked ASL as his choice of language. Who are we to argue with that?” and they agree.

The MacDonald family has decided to disenroll Maverick this Friday, on August 28, from RDSPD because, from their perspective, the school made some changes to Maverick’s IEP without their knowledge back in March after the COVID-19 shutdowns began. The IEP amendment states that the MacDonalds “waived all other options besides pre-recorded SLP (speech language pathologist) lessons.” Due to this, Olivia said, “We cannot trust the school to abide by the laws and guidelines put in place at this time, which is unfortunate.” The RDSPD told Olivia that they “made contact” with her and her spouse on March 31, 2020 via a written notice, but she claims she did not get anything until she received the IEP amendment in April. 

Second El Paso School Denies ASL Access
The MacDonalds approached the Socorro Independent School District [SISD], which serves their area of residence, and asked the school district to provide Maverick a qualified ASL interpreter only to see their request denied. It seemed contradictory, given that the SISD’s Special Education webpage clearly states that “children who are identified as auditory impaired [deaf], visually impaired or deaf-blind may be served from birth through 21 years of age.” During the meeting the school district stated to the parents that “they couldn’t make any decisions regarding any ideology (referring to ASL) during the meeting,” even when the MacDonalds were asking about specific language options.

According to the Texas Deaf Child’s Bill of Rights, “the state legislature recognizes that students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing should have the opportunity to develop proficiency in English, including oral or manual-visual methods of communications, and American Sign Language.” Olivia shared that while this particular document has been helpful for them in gaining knowledge, it is to their dismay that the school districts are completely ignoring it. “The Bill of Rights specifically states that we’re entitled to equal access to public education in our preferred mode of communication, which would be ASL, and the school is essentially viewing that as an inconvenient suggestion, at least that’s the way it’s coming across to us.” (Olivia)

Deaf Vee Journal called Carmen Castro-Toriano, the Coordinator at RDSPD, and left a request to inquire about Maverick’s IEP and why it still has not been changed to “American Sign Language” as his language choice and their decision to change the IEP documents with an addendum without his parents’ consent. The Texas Education Agency has also been contacted to inquire about proper procedures with any additions to an IEP document in accord to state law and how to ensure IEP compliance. 

Deaf Vee Journal contacted the Purple Hearts Elementary School, which is under the Socorro Independent School District, and left a message for Deana White, their current Principal, about their alleged refusal to provide sign language access for Deaf children who may be local El Paso residents. We were referred to Richard Ortega, the SISD’s Director of Special Education, who stated that SISD does provide accommodations for each child: “We have a committee that makes the determination which language is most beneficial for each child, and the committee includes parents as well.”

RDSDP Letter Template
If you want to share your opinions with the Regional Day School Program for the Deaf about their decision not to include ASL in Maverick’s IEP, feel free to contact the following RDSPD employees:

Dear Ms. Castro-Toriano, Ms. Elkins, and Ms. Esquivel:

I learned of the Regional Day School for the Deaf Program’s decision not to include ASL in Maverick’s IEP, even after his parents asked you several times to do so. Your refusal to abide by state law is a violation of Maverick’s right to use his preferred sign language for language acquisition at school, and it is disappointing because the Regional Day School for the Deaf Program could have been a great example for other regional day schools in the state of Texas and other states in doing all that they can do to support the child in thriving.

I strongly implore that the Regional Day School for the Deaf Program reconsider including ASL as one of the sign languages supported for regular use in student instruction.

Thank you,

[Name]
[City, TX]

Resources 
The Special Education Information Center [SPEDTex] shared this useful handbook for families who have a complaint about their child’s rights in special education services, and it is in a downloadable PDF format. The Texas Education Agency [TEA] does not process complaints by e-mail; you can submit your complaint by fax, mail, or hand delivery and hand delivery depends on whether TEA staff would be present in the office or working remotely from home, due to COVID-19. For an expanded description of the TEA Special Education Complaint process, click on this link. You should check out the latest COVID-19 related update on Special Education Complaints and Resideration Requests as submitted to the TEA. Susan Tiggs is the Statewide Lead for Deaf/Hard of Hearing Services, and she can discuss support options for students; you can contact her at [email protected] or 817-740-7580. 

Deaf Vee Journal reached out to the Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services [ODHHS] at the Texas Health and Human Services Department to request for an advocate for Maverick’s family. Lorie Breslow is the ODHHS Director, and Jamie Jones and Nikki Soukup are the two Program Coordination Specialists. 

If you are a parent in Texas or another state and you have language access concerns for your Deaf or hard of hearing child, contact us at [email protected] or find us on Facebook at Deaf Vee. We are looking to publish additional family stories!

Editor’s Note: This is a developing story. Feel free to follow up for future articles.