In our previous article, “4-year-old Refused ASL Access at Two Schools,” we wrote about the MacDonalds’ struggle for their son, Maverick, to have ASL access at the El Paso Regional Day School Program for the Deaf [RDSPD], which is part of the El Paso Independent School District [EPISD], and their plans to enroll him at a different school. 

The MacDonalds were not alone in reporting accessibility issues with RDSPD staff. At least two other families are experiencing difficulties with the school’s lack of cooperation in making sure their children’s needs are being met. 

As far as we know, parents of deaf and hard of hearing students who attend RDSPD have been asking RDSPD administrators to offer ASL classes specifically for them. As of September 1, we were informed that the RDSPD would start providing ASL classes for the parents and now it does not seem to be the case. The ASL classes at RDSPD were announced earlier yesterday (September 8) on the official EPISD Facebook page and when inquired, an EPISD representative stated that the classes are “open to all.” 

Alicia Swing, a RDSPD parent, shared her objections to the idea of opening the classes up to everyone in a comment below the Facebook post (edited for clarity, a screenshot also is provided): 

I’m all for the community learning ASL (high-five emoji).

HOWEVER Don’t you think it’s better for us parents who have Deaf/hard of hearing students in your district [to have] the chance to learn ASL first??

I know a lot of ASL[,] I’m not fluent but many other families in the program haven’t been as fortunate to learn ASL like I did, to be able to communicate with our children.

Our children deserve better than what your [you’re] offering them (or in our case what your [you’re] not offering)!!!!”

Gustavo Reveles Acosta, the EPISD’s Director of Community Engagement, responded to Alicia’s comment with the following statement: “We feel that having EVERYONE have access to these classes (including parents of children who use ASL) is a benefit for our hard of hearing or deaf students. The more people who can communicate in ASL, the better it is for those who use it as their main form of communication. Don’t you think?” 

Swing countered, insisting that as many families are not able to communicate with the deaf/hard of hearing child, those families should have first priority. The IEP for Swing’s 7-year-old has “American Sign Language” clearly documented as his default language of choice in multiple provisions, and yet the RDSPD has repeatedly refused to provide him an ASL interpreter in class. Other EPISD parents echoed Swing’s sentiments and reiterated their struggles for their deaf and hard of hearing children to receive equal access to their education in ASL.

The school’s decision to allow the general public to sign up for those classes poses the problem of demand and supply. The number of students the teacher can comfortably observe for learning signs in person is different from the number of students on Zoom, or any other program for multiple attendees to meet online. From a Deaf perspective, where a class size of 20-30 students is acceptable for face-to-face settings, it can be a real struggle for the teacher to aptly see each student’s hands if the class size goes past 9-12 students for online settings.

There have been over 165 shares, over 185 comments, and over 300 emoji reactions (i.e., likes, loves, cares) on the Facebook announcement of the ASL classes at RDSPD, and more than 15 people have indicated an interest in taking those classes–this number alone does not include the parents of deaf and hard of hearing students at RDSPD. Opening up the classes to the general public means that parents would have to compete for spots with community members who have no involvement in the students’ lives whatsoever.

Deaf Vee Journal was informed that the teacher(s) who entered in an agreement with the school district to instruct those ASL classes did so on the understanding it would be for the parents only, not the general public. As of this morning, we confirmed that the teacher(s) backed out and the school district no longer has anyone available to teach the said ASL classes. The ASL classes, however, continue to be advertised without a known replacement who is a qualified native ASL signer with considerable experience in teaching.

Charles Johnson, a community member who was heavily involved in the implementation of the ASL classes for the parents, shared his disappointment (edited for clarity): 

“That is disappointing. That was not part of the agreement. Our goal was to teach parents of D/HH [deaf/hard of hearing] students. These kids go home where there is no signing environment. We were looking to change that. If others were truly interested in learning our language, register at EPCC [El Paso Community College] or explore ASL courses online (free and paid options). But instead, the district takes advantage of this opportunity and offers it to everyone. I’m done with this district.”

Since the publication of our previous article, we learned that RDSPD staff told the MacDonalds they would arrange an ASL interpreter for Maverick and yet they provided an “ASL-based paraeducator” instead, and the new school year started last month on August 17. Olivia, Maverick’s mother, shared that the school’s decision to open up their ASL classes to just about anybody on top of their refusal to follow through on an actual ASL interpreter for her son’s instruction only shows that the school does not prioritize the real needs of their students and the students’ parents. 

“Maverick’s situation has not gotten any better. The school district has been focused on creating this class for community access to ASL; however, they have put on paper at Maverick’s IEP that they were ‘explicitly denying him an interpreter.’” (Olivia MacDonald)

We confirmed that the National Association for the Deaf [NAD] is in contact with the three families for possible legal action against the El Paso Regional School Program for the Deaf and the El Paso Independent School District.

If you want to show your support of the parents and their deaf and hard of hearing children who attend RDSPD, you can send an e-mail to the following RDSPD and EPISD administrators and demand that the ASL classes be restricted to the parents only as they had requested.

Carmen Castro-Toriano, RDSPD Coordinator

Gustavo Reveles, Director of Community Engagement

Laurie Enloe, Assistant Superintendent of Special Education & Special Services

Vince Sheffield, Deputy Superintendent of Administration & Academics

Juan Cabrera, Superintendent – EPISD