The Los Angeles United School District (LAUSD), the second largest school district in the country, recently passed a new policy that is a model for enhancing brain, language, and socio-emotional development of all deaf, hard of hearing, and deafblind children (hereafter referred to collectively as “deaf”). This policy, while not new in American education, is new for such a large public school district and an important bellwether for advancing early and consistent language acquisition for deaf children.

LAUSD’s policy focuses on American Sign Language (ASL)-English bilingual education and says that all deaf children are eligible to receive services through public schools from birth. For children up to age three, bilingual programs will be the default, with an opt-out option. This bilingual ASL/English approach evades the centuries-long binary trap that insists that deaf people must either learn to speak or learn to sign, not both. A bilingual approach addresses the isolation and exclusion deaf children frequently experience in classrooms and school environments. It creates a more inclusive and supportive learning environment for children, families, professionals, and school programs, building skills and knowledge that will be used throughout life. This is validated by significant research, including cognitive neuroscience studies about language development, such as the ones promulgated by the Visual Language and Visual Learning Center, a National Science Foundation Science of Learning Center housed at Gallaudet University.

Multiple critical policy areas need to be addressed to ensure that our diverse deaf children can thrive from the beginning. Three in particular are:

  1. Interpret the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) provision in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to require ASL/English language-rich environments for all deaf students and continue to expand options for language-rich bilingual educational learning environments.
  2.  Count deaf children.
  3. Confront barriers in teacher screening requirements.

Read the full article about including deaf students by Roberta J. Cordano at Brookings.