Providing VI Services Within a Charter School System
Authors: Laura Hampton, Teacher of Students with Visual Impairment (TVI)
Keywords: charter school, public school, private school, Texas Administrative Code, Texas VI Registration Student Data Program
In today’s educational climate, students and families are no longer restricted to only two choices, public school districts or private schools. Many families also now have the option of a special type of public school, a charter school, within their communities. In the state of Texas, a charter school usually offers open enrollment and free tuition. The charter must meet annual state academic and financial standards, as well as follow the Texas Administrative Code and federal laws pertaining to Special Education. They are not required to follow all the rules that apply to public school districts, however, such as limiting class size or maintaining a school nurse on staff. Although most charter schools do have a nurse, few have class size limitations.
Because a charter school is mandated to provide all special education services, the charter may privately contract with a Teacher of Students with Visual Impairment (TVI) or Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist (COMS) if a student has a suspected or identified visual impairment. However, it is not uncommon for students to attend school at a charter for an entire year or longer without services due to the lack of availability of a TVI or COMS in a particular region. A contracted TVI is required to perform the same responsibilities as a TVI employed in a local school district. Most special education departments in the Texas public school system have or have had at least one student with visual impairment and are familiar with service models for such a student. Administrators at charter schools are frequently unaware of the role of a TVI or COMS.
A charter system can vary in size as well as encompass many different locations instead of being concentrated in one area. For example, The International Leadership of Texas schools are considered a single district but their campuses are sprinkled throughout the state. Charter schools like this must keep in mind that, when completing the Texas VI Registration Student Data Program each January, it is important to list the Regional Education Service Center in which the student’s campus is located, as opposed to the region in which the student’s home address is located, since these may be different.
For a TVI or COMS, providing services to students with visual impairments who attend charter schools can bring challenges and rewards. The charter schools for which I have provided services have been extremely receptive to purchasing any specific technology that their students identified with visual impairments have needed. They also offered full time onsite tech support which was extremely helpful. As in most public schools, Chromebooks are commonly used. This often necessitates the use of an alternative device for a student with a visual impairment, if they require access to information through a screen reading program (like JAWS) or a magnification system (like ZoomText).
A larger charter system may use a complicated scheduling system even for elementary students. This results in a rather large number of classroom teachers for whom the TVI and/or COMS must provide consulting services. Although keeping track of an A/B day schedule including Chinese and Spanish may seem complicated to me, the students tend to remember their schedules with ease. Organized record keeping is a must for the TVI and COMS!
The addition of foreign languages at the elementary level makes it imperative that the TVI observe the student in all settings to ensure critical visual skills are addressed, as these subjects are usually heavily dependent on multimedia and graphics, in my experience. I was surprised to find myself addressing students’ visual needs in Spanish and Chinese. Core content areas (like math and reading) were presented in Spanish by a different teacher on alternating days. Therefore, I collaborated with two math teachers and two reading teachers for each student. Chinese is represented by characters rather than alphabetic letters. The instruction consisted of class videos of the Chinese characters paired with the audio meaning of the characters. Ensuring that students could visually detect the details of the Chinese characters was a unique and interesting matter.
Whether the charter school is within a large system or relatively small with only a few campuses, staff and faculty may have had limited to zero experiences with the services that need to be provided for a student with a visual impairment, including working with a TVI or COMS. Good consulting and communication skills can result in a rewarding partnership and quality VI services for the student, even with the challenges the charter school systems may present.
For more information on charter schools in Texas, please visit the Texas Education Agency website.