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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Will visually and hearing impaired children be the next victims of this administration's obsession with test scores?

A month ago, we posted information about the proposal that had been floated by top DOE officials to eliminate the offices at Tweed responsible for serving visually and hearing impaired students, and to put these very specialized functions under the direct control of principals at individual schools.

Though this radical change was apparently headed off, at least temporarily, because of widespread protest from parents, there have apparently been already many changes made to programs for visually and hearing-impaired students, with some classes closed, and more to come.

Here is an excerpt from minutes of the October 17 meeting of the Citywide Council on Special Education, which suggests that the proposed elimination of these offices had occurred in response to the complaints of principals, who objected to the fact that the test scores at their schools were being lowered by the hearing and/visually disabled children at their schools. Is this development another cost of this administration’s obsession with school test results – and the new school-based accountability system that threatens principals with a loss of their jobs, if they fail to improve scores? Read on:

10/17/2007 Calendar Meeting Minutes of the Citywide Council on Special Education

….Last week at a private meeting held by Marcia Lyles (Deputy Chancellor of Teaching & Learning) the implementation of the DOE's plan to move all Educational Vision Services (EVS) & Hearing Educational Service Divisions (HES) services to the direct control of individual Principals at the school level was discussed.

In attendance were Bonnie Brown (District 75 Superintendent), Helen Kaufman (Lead Regional Administrator for Citywide Programs, District 75), Dr. Lawrence Gardner (Director of Educational Vision Services) and various DOE principals.

In response to the outcry among parents of blind and visually impaired students, Bonnie Brown had reported that this was in response to concerns raised by principals a year ago that blind and deaf children in their respective schools were adversely affecting test scores results.

Consideration of possible changes to Educational Vision Services and hearing Educational Services began. The principals felt that it was unfair that they be held accountable for the test scores for students whose academic programs they have no control over.

Those early conversations eventually led to the meeting held on October 11th, 2007. The CCSE requested information from the meeting. Bonnie stated that Mr. Diaz, Chief of Staff to Deputy Superintendent Dr. Lyles’s took notes at the meeting and will provide them for Maria Garcia and the Council who would them forward them to all interested parties, Mr. Diaz agreed.

Bonnie Brown also addressed the closing of self contained vision classes across the city, saying that due to advances in Medical Care there are fewer blind and visually impaired students entering the system; hence, fewer referrals and the need for fewer classes.

CCSE member, Maria Garcia reminded Bonnie Brown that her statement was based on incorrect information. Data from the Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped (State Agency for the Blind) supports that there are more blind and visually impaired students entering the system not fewer. Ms. Garcia proceeded to clarify; advances in Medicine have resulted in a higher survival rate amongst premature infants including micro-preemies and a correspondingly higher increase in enrollment of cortically blind students in school systems across the nation.

Ms. Brown stated that Principals complained that they felt unwelcome in the self-contained classes. Maria Frieda, Queens EVS Supervisor responded by pointing out the self contained classroom teachers, students and their parents have been historically unwelcome and has not been included in the cultural of the General Education buildings that house them, not the other way around.

Ms. Lawson, parent of a seeing impaired student asked Ms. Brown to refute the rumor that the DOE plans to dismantle Educational Vision Service. Ms. Brown said she would not use the word dismantle.

CCSE Member, Ms. Garcia stated the DOE is currently instructing fewer than 10% of the legally blind students with Braille and the DOE does not require a learning media assessment of kindergarten students entering the system to determine the most appropriate learning media for student. New students are instead automatically placed on a large print tract which will result in functional illiteracy for most if not all legally blind students.

Parents and members of EVS voiced their concerns as to what is taking place. Ms. Brown repeatedly reiterate her opinion that the situation was well in hand. The DOE and Dist. 75 are qualified to determine the final out come of Vision and Hearing Education Services. Ms. Garcia asked for a commitment from the DOE as well as District 75 to involve parent representatives and the CCSE in all future discussions of changes to the administration of services to seeing and hearing impaired students within the NYC Education (DOE); there was no reply.

Important: A town-hall meeting with officials from DOE, sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind of New York State and the Parents of Blind Children of New York, is set for Monday, Dec. 10 at 6pm, at Selis Manor, 135 W. 23 St. For more information or to RSVP, please leave a message at 212 222-1705 or email

A flyer for this meeting is posted here.

Thanks to John Englert, president of the CCSE and Maria Garcia, CCSE member and President of the Parents of Blind Children of New York for this update.

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