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Fall 2000 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

In Response

By Dr. Phil Hatlen, Superintendent, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired PhilHatlen@tsbvi.edu 

I often receive telephone calls and mail from both parents and educators, requesting my opinions about the educational services needed by a specific child. I recently had an e-mail exchange with an educator in another state, and I will share portions of our communication. I invite your comments and thoughts on this exchange.

School District:

I am writing to you because I have accessed your website and am very impressed with its content. A parent in our district is going to ask that we place his son in the residential school. The parent has stated that he wishes his son to receive services for approximately two years at this specialized setting, with the intent to return him to our district for high school.

The student is performing well in our district. He receives, in our opinion, adequate support services, including orientation and mobility, OT, services from a teacher for the visually impaired, and a full-time paraprofessional. There are certain home conditions that may be playing on the father's thinking at this time.

What would you think are the most compelling reasons to maintain a visually impaired student in our district, beyond the reasons/rational applicable to sighted peers? Our staff have worked hard to make this placement work, and they do not wish to see this child removed. They feel it implies that they have failed in their educational endeavors for this student. What suggestions can you offer us?

My Response:

While I am employed by a school for the blind, I have always been an advocate for an array of placement options for blind and visually impaired students. I believe that there is no "one size fits all" approach to meeting the diverse needs of students who are visually impaired. Each child is an individual with individual needs, and these needs will change or be different, depending on degree of visual impairment, presence of additional disabilities, services available locally, and specific needs based on age and maturity. I believe that the IEP must consider the entire array of placement possibilities yearly, because the needs of visually impaired students will change yearly.

I am a strong advocate for local placement of visually impaired students, and I urge my colleagues to always consider local neighborhood school first. On the other hand, I believe in a level playing field among all placement options. A child should not have to fail in one setting before being referred to another. I do not believe that a school for the blind should be the last option for a child. For some students, it should be the first, or perhaps, the only option.

So, what about the child who concerns you? In a perfect world he would have had a comprehensive assessment which should have included compensatory skills for academic learning, functional low vision, learning media, orientation and mobility, career education, assistive technology, independent living skills, social interactive skills, and leisure/recreation skills. All of these assessments should be done, or orchestrated, by the qualified, credentialed teacher of the visually impaired. Based on the outcome of these assessments, an IEP should be developed that reflects the strengths and needs of the student in all of these areas. Then goals and objectives are written to meet the needs identified through assessment. I would expect that most blind and visually impaired students would have at least one goal in each area assessed.

It is only after assessment and IEP development have been completed that placement is considered. Giving careful consideration to frequency and duration of instruction for every goal and objective from the teacher of the visually impaired, a school district must determine whether it has the resources to meet the needs. In some cases, teachers from related services might be the primary service providers, and in the case of orientation and mobility, a specialist will provide the instruction. Of course, the classroom aide should never, ever, take the role of instructor. She may only reinforce skills and knowledge learned from the teacher. The crucial question is how many hours per week are needed for direct instruction from the teacher of the visually impaired. Today, many educators are saying that every blind and visually impaired student should have at least one hour per day of instruction from the teacher of the visually impaired. Any less than this, places the student at risk for not learning skills unique and necessary for blind and visually impaired persons. Some students are going to need more than an hour a day. What about them? Does your itinerant teacher have a schedule that is so flexible that she can provide for those students who have intensive needs?

What are the resources available to the student from the school district? Are they adequate to meet the child's needs? If not, will the district increase its resources to meet those needs? If this is not possible, will the district refer the child to a program (such as the residential school) that can meet the intensive needs of a child? Is the district reluctant to make an out-of-district referral because it feels like failure? What if the district is doing all it can, and still cannot meet the unique, intensive needs of a child?

Can we, you and I, discuss this child's needs on a level playing field? Are we both able to say that inclusion is simply one more option for placement and should be the goal, but may not be appropriate for all students? Can we agree that, for those children appropriately placed in a school for the blind, that is their Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)? Can we both say that philosophy does not drive our decisions, but consideration for the individual needs of a child is how we make decisions about placement.

I wish you and the family well in your decisions. Please let me know if I can provide you with further information or clarification.

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