House Bill 2470 won't help hearing impaired students
The Senate Education Committee passed House Bill 2470 Tuesday with a cost of approximately $20,000 annually. This bill includes providing waivers to sign support specialists, interpreters who have not passed the state-required Educational Interpreter Proficiency Assessment (3.5 EIPA). In fact, the bill allows the Department of Education to give waivers to these "specialists" without 3.5 EIPA sign language skills. It allows them to be placed in classrooms with deaf and hard-of-hearing children for one year, then a second year and longer to provide language access and relay teachers' instruction through sign language. I do not believe this is in the best interest of our deaf and hard-of-hearing children.
Representatives from the state superintendent's office and the state Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing were present and spoke in support of the bill. Additionally, the Office of Special Education, West Virginia Association of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing have voiced support of HB 2470.
An interpreter's role is to provide language access for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, making the classroom instruction available to them in sign language. Why do the directors of deaf education and organizations that represent deaf and hard-of-hearing people of West Virginia believe deaf children can be taught without skilled interpreters?
I hope readers will express their disapproval of giving waivers to sign support specialists. Instead, we must train these interpreters and help them gain the necessary sign language skills. We can provide mentorship through the videophone to give one-on-one classes. Also, because there is a shortage of interpreters, we can offer American Sign Language as a foreign language in our high schools so that our students will choose the field of interpreting as a profession and enter a training program. We can ask colleges for reciprocity agreements, which give college credits to students who take American Sign Language classes in high school. Additionally, we need to value educational interpreters as reflected in the salary they receive.
As I told the Senate Education Committee members, not one of them would want their child to go to school, knowing their son or daughter would not be able to "hear" the teacher's instruction. Equally, we must not permit HB2470 to offer waivers that cause our deaf and hard-of-hearing children to attend school for one year, a second year and ongoing with interpreters who are not proficient in sign language. Instead, we must provide intense training so these interpreters can successfully work with our deaf and hard-of-hearing children.
We must respectfully demand that all deaf and hard-of-hearing children in our state attend school and learn -- not just attend school. I ask that readers request that HB2470 not provide waivers for interpreters who do not have the state-required 3.5 EIPA score.