Update on SB 354
We want to extend our thanks to our parents, alumni and advocates for sending letters, making calls and meeting with legislators. The concerns were acknowledged by Senator Kirk Watson’s office and they have made significant changes to SB 354 (still in draft form). We have highlighted the main changes below as well as our position on the changes. With the children and families we serve in mind, we continue to oppose this bill as it stands.
This bill seems to be improved at first glance, but after a thorough review we realize it does not include ANY reference to oral, speech or listening and spoken language. We have no confidence that the current version of the bill will offer any benefits to oral deaf and HoH children – instead guiding them to an ASL model.
OVERVIEW OF CHANGES
Mandated testing in ASL and English
- Parents would now have a choice to receive testing in ASL, English, or both.
- Position: While we are very happy that the bill no longer mandates testing in both languages, parents are not able to opt-out of testing and it is unclear if the parent resource guide discussed in the bill will be unbiased.
Inclusion of the Texas Education Agency
- The Texas Education Agency and Early Childhood Intervention now plays a larger role monitoring the language acquisition of children less than eight years of age.
- Position: Favorable, although does not cover private school children
Changes in Committee
- The committee no longer requires all members to be fluent in sign language.
- Position: Very pleased with this change, however the committee still is heavily biased towards the ASL community for the following reasons: 7 of the 13 must be fluent in sign language; does not include LSL Specialist; committee chosen by “Commissioner” who is undefined.
- The bill still requires quarterly testing in the language(s) parents choose and based on the findings the Advisory Committee can make recommendations to the IEP Plan. They are proposing educators and ECI providers administer the assessments
- Position: We are still strongly opposed to testing every three months. Additionally, we strongly believe spoken language testing should be administered by an SLP with expertise in assessing children. Furthermore, there are no specifics on the assessments to be used and the biased committee will be choosing them.
Other Concerns with updated SB354
- The new version of the bill deleted the definition of “English”, paving a way for English to be defined by the biased committee as only written English and not spoken language.
- The bill still does not provide consideration for non-English speaking families nor children who lose their hearing after they learn to listen and speak but before age 8.
- The bill now includes setting up a database to track developmental milestones for children in each language to be used for analysis and future legislation. The proposed data collection is very subjective, and will not include children in private pre-schools and elementary schools. Furthermore, it will only collect information on age of identification and not age of hearing aid or CI amplification, an important factor when determining success in listening and spoken language.
What is SB 354?
Texas Senate Bill 354 was filed in December 2016 by Senator Kirk Watson. The bill mandates that all children with a hearing loss of 20db or higher (in one or both ears) will be subject to quarterly assessments in ASL and/or English until they reach 8 years of age. The advisory committee reviewing the assessments has the power and duty to "establish and modify the child's education plan." You can review the complete bill on our website at www.centerhearingandspeech.org.
The bill was crafted and sponsored by LEAD-K, a group leading a "visual rights campaign" with the goal of incorporating American Sign Language (ASL) into all Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) children's communication modes. You can learn more about LEAD-K by visiting their website www.leadk.org.
The Center for Hearing and Speech agrees with LEAD-K that every single child with a hearing loss deserves a method of communication as quickly as possible.
We are confident that the powerful combination of early identification, unbiased options counseling and informed parent choice will accomplish this goal.
We do not believe that learning to listen and speak is the only communication option for children with hearing loss. Because every child's loss is unique, one size does not fit all. We respect the Deaf Community's desire to preserve its identity, and support families who choose the ASL option for their children. However, we do not believe a single community should have the power to determine what communication option is best for every child. That right belongs to the parent.
The Center for Hearing and Speech, along with Sunshine Cottage, Hearing School of the Southwest, physicians, industry professionals, parents and Board members, are working diligently to defeat SB 354.
We need your help! Are you a CHS parent or client? Are you a professional or community member who agrees that SB 354 is not the answer to improving outcomes for deaf and hard of hearing children? If so we would love to hear from you! We have strategies in place and are looking for advocates to join our cause.