Braille Monitor                                                                                                   July 2004

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Parents Fight to Keep Blind Teacher

by Jennifer Farish

From the Editor: The following story first appeared in the March 10, 2004, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. Both the family and the fired teacher are members of the NFB of Mississippi. What a sad irony it is that a school board would fire a successful Braille teacher with fifteen years of experience when many, many school systems across the country have no Braille instruction available to their blind students at all. We can only hope that reason prevails. Here is the story:

The parents of an eleven-year-old North Pontotoc School student are fighting to restore the position of her blind teacher.

Matt and Laina Fieldses' daughter Kelsey was born premature and as a result had a brain bleed at birth. The bleed caused Kelsey to lose her sight and caused several learning disabilities.

For two and a half years Kelsey was taught Braille by a blind teacher with the special education program at North Pontotoc High School. Matt Fields said they were amazed at the progress Kelsey made under the tutelage of the blind teacher. The teacher had been teaching Braille for fifteen years and is certified with several schools for the blind.

New Teacher

In December, the Pontotoc County school system terminated that teacher. A letter from Director of Student Services Terry Larabee said the termination was an "effort to streamline Braille services to the visually impaired student in our district and to correlate and coordinate Braille instruction."

The system put another teacher in the position after she underwent a three-month course in Braille. The new teacher has a degree in elementary education and has served as an assistant teacher and teacher with the Pontotoc County school system.

Fields argues three months is simply not long enough for a person to learn Braille well enough to teach it to others. For example, the online course for level 1 Braille that the Hadley School for the Blind offers is an eight month course. The second level can take as much as one to two years to complete.

"And that's just to get a certificate to say you know how to read Braille; that is not certifying you to teach it," he said. "So that is just a comparison of what we have and what we had and what should be."

The Fieldses said Kelsey has come home with papers that were incorrectly Brailled and as a result asked the school to continue teaching Kelsey but to discontinue her Braille lessons.

Board Response

Tuesday the Fieldses addressed the issue at the Pontotoc County School Board's monthly meeting. The board declined to make any decision on the issue of discontinuing Kelsey's Braille instruction or rehiring her blind teacher, citing an upcoming due process hearing on the matter.

The Fieldses said they filed the motion for a due process hearing after the board refused to take action one way or the other. "We can't send her back to school if she is being taught incorrectly," Laina Fields told the board. "Y'all wouldn't do it, and I can't do it."

Fields added they are planning to withdraw Kelsey from school today. Although no action was taken, Board President Kenneth Roye said the board will rehire the teacher if the hearing officer for the due process hearing recommends such action. "If the hearing officer says to hire her back, we will hire her back," Roye said, adding he understood the Fieldses' frustration.

The system is doing the best they can for Kelsey, he added. "We want her to have the best, and the district is telling the board that she's getting the best she can get," he said. The due process hearing on the Fieldses' case is set for March 30.

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