Future Reflections Fall 1990, Vol. 9 No. 3

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FOR THE SAKE OF ONE CHILD

by Denise Mackenstadt

[PICTURE] Amanda Haug,daughter of Irv and Sharon Haug.

Editor's Note: This article is reprinted from the Blind Washingtonian, the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington.

Amanda Haug is a multi-handicapped blind nine-year-old. When Amanda came to Irv and Sharon Haug at age five, she was functioning at the level of an infant. In four years, with a great deal of love and hard work, Amanda had made incredible strides.

In September of 1988 Sharon Haug asked the National Federation of the Blind to work with her in obtaining a quality education for her daughter. The Haug family had recently moved to Snohomish School District. Previously, Amanda had been placed in a class for the developmentally disabled --with itinerant services of a teacher for the blind. In her new setting Amanda had a teacher who was unfamiliar with the special needs of a blind child. Denise Mackensdadt and Eun Jung Lee accompanied Sharon Haug in an observation of Amanda's class. The instructor seemed to be anxious to hear any suggestions that would help her in serving Amanda in an appropriate manner.

By November, however, things had changed. Sharon again contacted the NFB of Washington because she was concerned about the Individual Education Plan (IEP) which had been presented to her by the school district. She felt that Amanda was being denied an appropriate education. She wished to incorporate pre-Braille activities and more cane travel instructions. She felt that Amanda was not receiving educational services which addressed her special needs due to blindness. Sharon requested a meeting to discuss revisions of the IEP. Denise Mackenstadt accompanied Sharon and her husband to this meeting.

Five staff members from the school district attended. At the meeting it was made abundantly clear that the school district had no intention of dealing fairly and cooperatively with the parents in order to provide the education Amanda needed. The school refused to instruct Amanda in any Braille, even though her classmates were enrolled in a language/reading program. But Sharon was adamant that her daughter receive an education which met all of her needs. It was evident that if Amanda were not blind she would be receiving better services.

Following that meeting Sharon wrote a letter to the director of special education formally requesting minimal Braille instruction, additional orientation and mobility, and additional communication instruction. In addition, the Haugs requested the services of a qualified teacher of the blind. All of these services had been successfully provided in the previous school district.

The Snohomish school district responded with a letter stating that an education in the skills of blindness was inappropriate for Amanda because she was multi-handicapped. But Sharon and Irv Haug were insistent that their daughter be given the kind of education that she deserved under the law. They were not ready to give up on her. After attending an NFB convention, Sharon had learned to trust her instincts as a mother, and she knew that she knew her daughter best.

With the help of the NFB of Washington and Oregon, and the Northwest Parents of Blind, the Haugs embarked on a ten-month struggle for a good program for their daughter. Ruth Van Ettinger performed a more complete and updated assessment on Amanda. Based on this assessment, the Haugs again insisted that Amanda needed blind services in addition to her developmentally disabled program. The NFB worked with Sharon and Irv to obtain an attorney. The school year was moving quickly and no agreement had been reached about educational services for Amanda.

The Haugs requested another IEP meeting in order to come to some agreement on the points which were in dispute. They were optimistic that a resolution of the problem could still be negotiated. The school district, however, did not come to that meeting in good faith to negotiate a viable program. The Haugs left the meeting greatly discouraged.

As a result, they informed the school district that they were filing for a due process fair hearing to settle the dispute. The School district had pushed the Haugs far enough. This struck a responsive chord. The district then wished to negotiate. Amanda was deemed eligible for extended school year during the summer. In addition, she would have orientation and mobility and speech therapy.

A date was set in August when the Haugs and the school district would sit down to discuss a teacher of the blind and the Braille and mobility services. As it turned out, Amanda would have a new teacher in September and the Snohomish School District would have a new director of special education. Just before school began a most highly Children Division, the Haugs embarked on a qualified teacher of the blind was hired to provide blind services for Amanda, and a new classroom teacher expressed delight at having Amanda in her class.

In November of 1989 Sharon Haug attended her daughter's IEP meeting accompanied by Denise Mackenstadt. This parent-teacher conference was cordial, respectful of all parties and a true team approach. All of the participants went away with a feeling of real hope for the future of Amanda Haug. Everything which Sharon and Irv had been asking for was being provided. Most importantly Amanda was again in a nurturing and loving school environment with a talented staff willing to work for her welfare.

Sharon and Irv Haug had to endure hardship and distress during this time. They could easily have given in to the school district. However, they knew that the future of their child was at stake and that ultimately Amanda would benefit in ways unimaginable.

The ripple effect has been just as dramatic. Initially the school district had said that there were not enough blind children to justify hiring a teacher of the blind. But in the past month five parents have requested services for a teacher of the blind! The Haug family, with the assistance of the National Federation of the Blind, fought not only for Amanda but for a quality education for every blind child in this country.

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