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Parents of deaf children should have better options

February 24, 2019 GMT

Let them speak, let them sign, let them communicate. That is a very simple request that parents of hearing-impaired children have for our public schools and state Legislature.

Every child in the United States is lawfully entitled to a free and appropriate public education. It is alarming and damaging that in New Mexico, the Public Education Department, public schools and parents cannot agree on a definition of appropriate, losing critical development time for children in the argument.

You see, in New Mexico, parental choice for deaf children is nonexistent. The state will only pay for spoken language education until a child reaches age 3; after age 3, the child is transitioned to the public school, where each school district decides the child’s language going forward by sporadic funding.

It should not be each local school district’s prerogative on whether a child is put into a spoken language, sign language or total communication track. It should be based upon the language chosen by the family. It is akin to your child reaching kindergarten and the school telling you that your new family language is Arabic. Even if the family does not speak Arabic, that is all the school will provide. Deaf education is no different.

Many hearing-impaired children have the ability to speak with the right instruction. Albuquerque Public Schools would have parents believe that deaf children learn through osmosis and that by being in a classroom with a speaking teacher, that child will learn to speak. That is as insane as it sounds. Therefore, if a parent calls out Albuquerque Public Schools on its unfounded research and position and demands spoken language, that family must pay out of pocket for that education.

If the child is born in Socorro, Roswell, Los Lunas or Rio Rancho, that family is given a choice. Families statewide are asking for that same opportunity by asking the House of Representatives to pass House Bill 243, titled “Instruction for Deaf or Hard of Hearing.”

The law does not mean that rural schools must create a program for a single deaf student. Instead, it requires the school to create contracts with providers that deliver specialized instruction.

Our children should not be held back from pursuing their full talents, from contributing what each can contribute to society because they were born to fit into a certain mold — because they belong to a group that historically has been the object of discrimination. Our schools and Legislature should be admonished for not doing this sooner and celebrated if they do it now.

I am a parent of a deaf child, and it’s time to change things for all families. I would never judge a family for choosing a sign language path for their deaf child. In return, I should never be judged for choosing a spoken language path for my deaf child.

Antonia Roybal-Mack is the parent of a hearing-impaired child. She lives in Albuquerque.