Future Reflections Winter/Spring 1997, Vol. 16 No. 1

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  Virginia Parents Battle Teacher Shortage

Editor's Note: Vicki Messick, President of the Virginia Parents of Blind Children, Division of the NFB of Virginia, has been active in the NFB for less than five years. Yet, in that brief time Vicki has worked closely with local and state NFB members to rally parents to attack system-wide problems of shortage of Braille teachers, excessive case loads, poorly trained aides, and many other problems. The following article, the fourth in a series, demonstrates what can happen when parents make the power of the NFB their own and accept the challenge to--as so aptly put by Julie Hunter in the lead article in this issue--"get to work."

Schools to Hire Second Teacher for Visually Impaired Students

by Sandra Tan

Reprinted from the Hampton, Virginia, Daily Press, December, 1996.

The Hampton School Board agreed Wednesday to hire another full-time teacher in response to parents' complaints and some state attention regarding quality of service for the visually impaired children.

Board members also directed Superintendent Billy Cannaday to address any other parental concerns regarding services for these children.

"We will monitor the progress of this very closely," said Chairman Jim Haggard.

Cannaday said the search for an additional teacher certified in vision impairment disabilities will begin immediately.

Currently, the school system has one vision specialist and an assistant who travel to individual schools and provide services to about 25 students, a few of whom are seen on a monthly basis.

The Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind has also been contracted to provide about a fifth of the required student services.

But parents of visually impaired students in Hampton said that by having only one full-time vision teacher, Hampton was shortchanging their children. By contrast Newport News has three full-time vision teachers serving about 34 students.

In addressing the board Wednesday, Vicki Messick, president of a local [and state parent's] chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, said, "We as a parents group appreciate your effort in recommending...the hiring of another vision teacher. Unfortunately, this recommendation is too late for most of the visually impaired children in Hampton."

Messick said she and other parents planned to file a formal complaint against Hampton for its "discriminatory" actions against visually impaired children with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights by December 20.

She also outlined several issues that she said had yet to be adequately addressed by the school administration:
* The current use of an "unqualified," full-time vision assistant who does not have certification in vision disabilities but works with students outside direct supervision of the certified vision teacher.
* The need to have a qualified teacher with vision impairment credentials consistently present at all meetings that determine a student's eligibility for vision services, as well as the development of specific education plans for students believed to have vision impairments.
* The need to improve the criteria used to determine a visually impaired child's eligibility for preschool services.

Jack Jones, grandfather of a 6-year-old with low vision and other disabilities, complained to the board about the lack of preschool services his granddaughter received, including vision services.

"The people who were turning us down really didn't have the background to do this," he said. "I want to know where a lot of the faults lie with her not getting the help she needed from age 2-1/2 to 5-1/2."

Both Jones and Messick were urged to meet with Cannaday, who promised to address their concerns.

"I do think we can bring resolution to this," Cannaday said.

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