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  • Writer's pictureLeAnn Wood

USDB - "Excellent Educational Opportunities for Students": Perspectives from the Back Row

USBE November Board Meetings - Day 2. Many people probably are not aware that USBE serves as the school board for the Utah School for the Deaf and Blind. Superintendent Coleman's presentation on the need for additional secondary space for our deaf students hit a little close to home today.

Did you know that the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) passed in 1975? This precursor to IDEA, provided the first opportunities for children with disabilities to receive the same opportunities as students without disabilities to receive a free and appropriate education.

Here I am with my dad and my little sister. My sister lost her hearing at 13 months old from spinal meningitis. For years I have heard the story of my dad fighting the local school district for a classroom for my sister and other deaf students in our city. It was just recently that I realized that this fight happened around 1975-1976. My mom and dad were probably the first parents in my hometown to advocate for the implementation of this important law.

I was only three when my mom and dad signed up the entire family for sign language lessons at our local university because my dad had researched and knew that for my sister to be successful she would need a foundation of language. I remember my mom cutting out pictures and gluing them to construction paper to make large flash cards. She spread the pictures across the living room floor, signed a vocabulary word and my sister and I would race to get to the card first. My dad would drive her across town every day to the single school in our district that provided a deaf education classroom.

We did not live in Utah at the time, however I remember stopping at the Utah campus in the early years following her hearing loss for various resources that the school provided for families. Tools such as a TTY, closed caption machine, light alarms -- items that would help our family communicate and my sister be successful.

As she approached junior high, my parents took her to visit our state school for the deaf and she made the decision to attend school there. Every Sunday afternoon we would put her on a bus that would take her two hours away and every Friday evening we would pick her up from that same bus stop. I'm grateful for those that provided the education she needed. She played sports, served in leadership positions, and made lifelong friends. Nearly 50 years later, my sister is an instructional coach for teachers. She earned a Masters Degree and taught math at the California School for the Deaf and has continued to make a difference for students like her.

I look forward to serving as the Utah School for the Deaf and Blind school board and am grateful for my life's experiences that help me understand their needs just a little bit better. It will be interesting to be part of the discussion as we move forward in determining what is best for these children.

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