Wednesday, September 3, 2008

LRE Appeal Letter

Dear ____________,

My husband ___________ and I are writing on behalf of our son, Ethan to inform you that we are respectfully appealing the decision of the _____________ City Schools. We have been denied our request for preschool placement in a sign language immersion speech education program focusing on speech development for apraxic children at __________ School for the Deaf. Ethan is a deaf child (with cochlear implants) with severe apraxia of speech and as a result is totally nonverbal. His medical team advises that while his implants do allow him to receive auditory information, they do not make him a hearing child, and his severe apraxia impairs his ability to process that information into meaningful language. 

We would like to share the circumstances of the meeting held Friday, August 22, 2008 with the IEP team at _____________ Elementary. The IEP team provided their evaluation of Ethan’s educational needs based on material gathered from their own play-based observation and from the MFE put together by ____________ City Schools. Their assessment aligns with the outside evaluations we provided. However, following the review of the evaluations, the school officials came to the conclusion that __________________ was able to offer a free and appropriate public education within their own existing preschool classroom.

As I’m sure you’re aware, early intervention is essential for language development for deaf children as well as those with severe language and communication disorders. Since Ethan is dealing with both issues, it’s our sincere hope that working together, we can help him learn to fully communicate and ultimately enroll in the _____________ school system as early as kindergarten or first grade. Ideally, he will become a verbal child early in his development. However, his disabilities may prevent speech from becoming a reality. In Ethan’s case, sign  language could possibly form a bridge to spoken language, but it may also serve as his one and only form of communication. At this time, sign language is his only form of communication, and, in spite of his cochlear implants, Ethan requires instruction in sign language in order to process verbal information. It is therefore essential that his teachers and peers be fluent in sign language as well so that Ethan can communicate with them.

The assessments we have received specify that without immersion in a fully expansive sign language environment, our son will miss valuable language acquisition time in his journey towards developing a viable communication system. Though we sincerely appreciate the efforts of this IEP team and commend them on their professionalism, competency, and genuine desire to meet Ethan’s needs; we are gravely concerned about their ability to provide the immersive sign language environment that our deaf and severely apraxic son currently requires to develop fluency in his language, which at this time is American Sign Language.

According to IDEA, section 1414, part B (iv):

The IEP team shall consider the communication needs of the child, and in the case of a child who is deaf or hard-of-hearing, consider the child’s language and communication needs, opportunities for direct communication with peers and professional personnel in the child’s language and communication mode, academic level, and full range of needs, including opportunities for direct instruction in the child’s language and communication mode.

Again, while we commend the IEP team’s efforts to create a learning environment to meet Ethan’s needs, we are concerned about the quality of services being proposed when there is a significant lack of opportunities for direct communication with teachers and peers. 

The “classroom aide/interpreter” that was proposed by the team to work with Ethan would need to fully interpret everything that goes on in the classroom in order to make it accessible to Ethan. That would be the only way that Ethan would know what the teacher and all of his peers are saying and doing. However, we’ve already established that at the age of 3, an interpreter is not appropriate and would be too abstract to be used successfully in an educational environment. In addition, the IEP team made it very clear that the interpreter for this preschool classroom is functioning as a classroom aide in this setting, rather than as an individual interpreter for Ethan, and her role is not stated anywhere on Ethan’s IEP. Therefore, there is no guarantee that even her interpreting services would be available to Ethan in his interactions with peers and other teachers.  Since the classroom teacher is not fluent, how is that going to help him if we cannot be positive that she is using appropriate signs to interpret and teach Ethan?

We have been told that Ethan can continue learning sign with his peers in the classroom, but Ethan has been exposed to sign language since infancy. He has a base vocabulary of nearly 300 words, so what should he do while his peers are learning this vocabulary? How will he continue to use these signs and build upon them if they are unknown to the majority of teachers and students at this time?

Most importantly, there is a social need to be around and interact with same peers and on access to language directly rather than through a third party such as the classroom aide. In the classroom at ________, Ethan would need help interacting and wouldn’t develop his social skills and communication skills directly. This is a significant area of need for apraxic children, and is only heightened for Ethan by his hearing loss and inability to verbalize at this time. Without other signing children in the classroom, where are the opportunities for direct communication with peers that is outlined in the law? An immersive sign language environment would give Ethan those opportunities for direct communication with both his peers and all of his teachers and therapists, while still encouraging his speech skills to develop.  

We understand that such a decision for an alternative placement is not made lightly. We also have received guidance from medical professionals and are all of the strong belief that an immersive sign language environment is what Ethan needs for success and ultimately the ability to fully communicate in life as well as 
 in a public school.  

We anticipate your response, and look forward to our son receiving the resources he needs in order to be able to communicate and thrive in his educational setting.