- Report Published -
|Educational Needs of Emotionally Disturbed Students with Visual and Hearing Impairments|
|Department of Education; Disability Commission|
|SJR 193 (Regular Session, 1998)|
|In the fall of 1997, the Advisory Commission on the Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind adopted a resolution requesting the Virginia Department of Education to conduct a study of the educational needs of students with emotional disturbance and visual or hearing impairments. Senator Emmett W. Hanger (co-chair of the Commission) introduced the resolution in the 1998 General Assembly as Senate Joint Resolution 193. The resolution was passed by the General Assembly. The resolution asks the Department of Education to consider the following information while conducting the study:|
• Determine the number of students with emotional disturbances who also have visual or hearing impairments;
• Identify and review the educational programs available for such students in Virginia;
• Determine the need for instructional staff and the qualifications required to teach such students;
• Evaluate the educational needs of such students over the next five, ten, and fifteen years; and
• Recommend the changes and alternatives necessary to ensure the availability of quality special education programs for these students.
There are two groups of students potentially impacted by this study: (1) students who are identified as both visually impaired and emotionally disturbed, and (2) students who are identified as both hearing impaired and emotionally disturbed. Students with two or more disabilities should have educational programs that adequately serve each disability. Therefore, when considering programs for students who are emotionally disturbed and who have a physical disability, it is important to address how a program designed to address emotional needs can be delivered to a student with a physical disability.
Those conducting this study were experienced and knowledgeable concerning students with these disabilities. They included in their definition of emotionally disturbed those hearing or visually impaired students who have been formally classified as such by their school divisions following an evaluation from school psychologists or other trained personnel. The Study Committee also included those students who have demonstrated in school consistent behavior disorders but have not been classified as emotionally disturbed, because their physical disability prevented the use of standard testing protocols.
Staff of the Department of Education (DOE) have found in their work with school divisions that some physically disabled students—hearing impaired, in particular—are very difficult to test for emotional problems. DOE staff have found that an undocumented number of students, who are identified as hearing impaired, receive related services for emotional needs. The services that provide support for emotional development or behavior disorder are included on Individualized Educational Plans required for all special education students.
Local school divisions and communities frequently have difficulty providing the services that adequately serve students with these combinations of disabilities, and, thereby, rely on residential services. Students with severe hearing problems or deafness who are emotionally disturbed require services that help close a gap that exists between the students’ facility with American Sign Language as a way of communicating and the hearing and speaking ability of the students’ parents, teachers, and counselors. The delivery of services needed to address this gap is greatly hampered by the inadequate supply of persons who are competent to communicate in American Sign Language (ASL) or to interpret for deaf students using American Sign Language. There is no teacher licensure standard for teaching American Sign Language, so the Study Committee cannot report definitive information about the number of credentialed ASL teachers. Divisions informally report difficulty in acquiring ASL services. The Department of Education (DOE) reported that in 1996-97, 83 percent (220 of 266) of the interpreters working in local divisions failed to meet DOE’s requirements for interpreters. This situation is problematic in that an individual who has minimal, but lowly developed, interpretation skills may be assigned to interpret in a course that requires highly developed skills due to the nature of the course material and the vocabulary (middle and secondary courses) or may be asked to interpret during the developmental years that reading and language skills are acquired (the early grades). In either case, students may not receive enough quality interpretation to acquire the content and skills needed to successfully learn the Standards of Learning.
The study found that similar services for students who are blind and emotionally disabled are not needed. Since blind students do not communicate in a different language, treatment via oral communication can be effective in addressing their emotional needs. Therefore, a program designed to serve emotionally disabled students can be modified in most educational settings for visually impaired students.
The study determined that there are presently no residential services in the Commonwealth of Virginia for the student who is deaf and has an emotional disturbance or behavioral disorder.
The Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind in Staunton (VSDB-S) returns from three to six students to their home communities annually. A survey of school divisions suggests a demand for residential and day treatment services for 77 students statewide. Students who require these unavailable state services are either served with a patchwork of community-based services that are judged to be ineffective in meeting students needs (according to a local school division survey), or they are served in out-of-state residential facilities at a cost exceeding $157,000 per student per year—a cost borne by the student’s local school division.
The study also examined programs for deaf students with emotional disturbance/behavioral disorders in other states to identify (1) state-of-the-art programming, (2) likely outcomes of such a program, (3) staffing patterns, and (4) funding issues. Two programs were chosen for significant study: the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf and the Learning Center for Deaf Children in Massachusetts. The study team identified the program in Massachusetts as a model for implementation in Virginia, and recommends that it be adopted at the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind at Staunton. The program would be a residential initiative, separate from the current program at VSDB-S. Placement at the facility would enable students to step-down to a less restrictive treatment setting and to interact with other students who are deaf.
Creation of a program based on the Massachusetts model would require renovation of one of the buildings at VSDB-S. It is recommended that the Stuart Building be renovated to assure adequate sight supervision of the students at all times. The cost of such renovation is estimated to be between $1.1 and $1.7 million. Annual operational costs are estimated to be $950,000. This sum would support the cost of a 24-hour-per-day, seven-day-a-week program. Staffing would include:
• Residential Staff (behavioral management specialist, evening and night dorm supervisors, aides, weekend contracting nursing services)
• Educational/Treatment Staff (teachers, aides, clinical psychologist, clinical social worker, behavioral management specialist, and program director)
Additional costs are associated with weekend food service. The per-student cost is estimated to be $93,000.
The study recommends that the tuition be a shared state-local responsibility. Currently, the estimated cost of educating a student at VSDB-S is $38,000 per year. When compared to the estimated per pupil cost of this new program ($93,000), the program would require $55,000 of additional funds per student to provide treatment to these multiple-disabled students. This $55,000 could be shared by the Commonwealth and the locality, and could be borne under the Comprehensive Services Act (CSA). Currently, the State Department of Medical Assistance Services is preparing to cover residential placements for certain children. As a result, some of the costs may be billable to Medicaid, offsetting state and local contributions.
This study documents a need for services for deaf students who have emotional disturbance or behavioral disorders. Virginia communities do not have services available to meet these students' needs and are currently paying for out-of-state placement for some students. Creation of a program on the campus of a residential school for the deaf and the blind places the program within an existing deaf community and among educators and residential specialists who have experience working with deaf students. Such a placement prevents the common isolation that deaf persons frequently experience in their schools and communities.