Parents may apply to state academies

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Parents of students with hearing or visual disabilities have several options for services based on the recommendation of a school district’s individual education planning team. What they can’t do without IEP authorization is request that their child be placed at the Minnesota State Academies for the Deaf or Blind.

Rep. Patti Fritz (DFL-Faribault) sponsors HF133, which would allow parents of children with visual or hearing disabilities to apply for a 60- to 90-day trial placement at the residential academies. The House Education Reform Committee approved the bill Feb. 10, to be heard next by the Education Finance Committee. It has no Senate companion.

Linda Mitchell, the academies’ superintendent, said part of the problem is that special education guidelines are fairly rigid when it comes to placement, which is perceived as the most restrictive option. Also, IEP planning may require students to use district facilities or personnel first. For example, some large districts may have staff with expertise in the specific disabilities, or an intermediate district that would offer special education classrooms.

However, some students could benefit from academy placement even if for a few months, to learn Braille or for mobility services orientation, after which they can go back to be successful in their school districts, said Mitchell.

“We would prefer a continuum of services. You don’t have to stay at the academies for 12 years,” Mitchell said. “We just want parents to have a little bit more say about the programming that’s provided for their kids.”

The academies serve children from birth through age 21. At the young end of the spectrum, placements have increased because newborn and early childhood screening has identified more who are eligible for services. There is also an increase in students from 18 to 21 years old who may have completed high school but need help to develop independent living skills such as cooking and doing laundry.