Acting Governor Oliver Signs Legislation Assisting Hard of Hearing Community

TRENTON – Today, Acting Governor Sheila Y. Oliver signed S2044 and S2045 into law, establishing a "Deaf Student's Bill of Rights" and a Working Group on Deaf Education. Additionally, the legislation requires the Department of Education to develop a parent resource guide and for both the Department of Education and Department of Health to collect and report data for children who are deaf or hard of hearing children.

“To ensure that every deaf student in New Jersey acquires the same high quality education as other students, I am proudly signing these two bills today establishing a Deaf Student’s Bill of Rights along with other initiatives for research, advocacy, and parental guidance,” said Acting Governor Oliver, who serves as Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs.  “Governor Murphy and I believe that every child has the ability to excel, no matter what their challenges may be. We will work to help deaf students overcome their challenges by providing the resources and support they need to succeed in the classroom and in life.”

 “Early identification of hearing loss and timely enrollment in culturally sensitive early intervention services can make a lifetime of difference in the education of a child with hearing loss,” said Acting Health Commissioner Judith M. Persichilli. “The Department of Health’s Early Intervention Program provides infants and toddlers up to age three with an individualized service plan that may include instruction in the use of American Sign Language; speech therapy; and other developmental tools that will help Deaf and hard of hearing students succeed in attaining the highest level language skills throughout their lifetime. The Department of Health works with health care providers to ensure children with later onset hearing loss are identified and collaborates with the Department of Education to ensure children over age 3 receive appropriate services.”

“The Deaf Student’s Bill of Rights requires that school districts recognize the right of each student who is deaf, hard of hearing or deaf-blind to receive the supports and services necessary for full access to communication and a world-class education,” said Education Commissioner Lamont O. Repollet. “We’re eager to expand upon the collaborations that we’ve established with stakeholders in this area, and we strive to continually improve the educational programs and services that we offer to children.”

"Access to early intervention supports and ongoing services throughout the lives of children who are deaf, hard of hearing, and deaf-blind can make a significant difference by developing strong language and literacy skills that will help them succeed,” said Human Services Commissioner Carole Johnson. “With these bill signings, New Jersey is making clear that we support building strong futures for deaf, hard of hearing, and deaf-blind children.”
S2044 creates a "Deaf Student's Bill of Rights requiring schools districts to provide the following:

  • Access to appropriate screening and assessment of hearing and vision capabilities and communication and language needs, and the continuation of screening and evaluation services throughout the educational experience;
  • Access to individualized and appropriate early intervention to support the acquisition of solid language bases;
  • Information to the families of students on placement considerations and available educational options;
  • Opportunities to meet and associate with adult role models who are deaf, hard of hearing, or deaf-blind and who utilize varied communication modalities;
  • Opportunities to meet and associate with their peers in the school environment and during school-sponsored activities;
  • A placement that is best suited to the student’s individual needs including, but not limited to, social, emotional, communication, and cultural needs;
  • Individual consideration for free, appropriate education across a continuum of placement options required by law;
  • Full support services provided by qualified and certified professionals in their educational settings;
  • Information to families from appropriately qualified and certified professionals on the medical, ethical, cultural, and linguistic issues of the deaf community; 
  • Access to mental health services and supporting services from qualified and certified providers fluent in the student’s primary mode of communication, including American Sign Language.

Primary sponsors of the bill include Senators Shirley K. Turner, M. Teresa Ruiz, and Assemblymembers Daniel Benson, Annette Quijano, and Pamela Lampitt.

“Often times hearing parents are at a loss for how to best address their deaf child’s disability,” said Senator Shirley Turner. “Providing them with a resource guide will help parents better grasp the needs of their children and the services available to them. It will also help introduce parents to the deaf community which can provide support and guidance for the children and their loved ones.”

 “Our schools must provide children with environments in which they can grow and thrive,” said Senator M. Teresa Ruiz. “It is extremely important that our classrooms are meeting the needs of all students. This legislation will help ensure that our districts are providing deaf and hard of hearing students with the tools and resources necessary for them to succeed.”

 “With this measure, no longer will we treat deaf or hard of hearing children as second class students or with expectations separate from that which we would have for any of our children,” said Assemblyman Dan Benson.

“Around 96 percent of children with hearing loss are born to parents with intact hearing, who may initially know little about deafness or sign language,” said Assemblywoman Annette Quijano. “This Bill of Rights will give parents a sense of both knowledge and security when it comes to the education their children should be receiving at school.”

“Too often, our schools do not update their classrooms and lack the appropriate resources to support the communication needs of deaf or hard of hearing students,” said Assemblywoman Pam Lampitt.  “As a result, these students fall behind not only in language development but other academic areas. This bill would prioritize the language needs of deaf or hard of hearing children in order for them to grow both academically and socially at school.”

S2045 establishes a Working Group on Deaf Education, within the Department of Education, which will make recommendations on issues related to the early linguistic development of children who are deaf or hard of hearing. The working group will be required to issue a report including recommendations one year after the group is organized.

The bill further requires the Department of Education to work with the Department of Health to create a parent resource guide for parents of deaf and hard of hearing children. In addition, the legislation requires both DOE and DOH to develop guidance on early intervention assessments and to communicate this guidance to school districts. The legislation also requires the DOE and DOH to collect and publicly report data on the language acquisition and developmental progress of children up to age five who are deaf or hard of hearing, on an annual basis.

Primary sponsors of this bill include Senators Shirley K. Turner and Teresa M. Ruiz, and Assemblymembers Daniel Benson, Nicholas Chiaravalloti, Raj Mukherji, Ralph Caputo, and Mila Jasey.

“These laws will help both parents and students to ensure they are receiving the best education and given the best opportunities using multi-modal means of communication at school,” said Assemblyman Dan Benson.

“All our children are unique. Parents with children who are deaf or hard of hearing face additional obstacles,” said Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti. “This law will provide parents the support needed so they can make informed decisions about the medical, linguistic, and educational management of their child.”

“The hardships that parents of deaf or hard of hearing children go through are unique,” said Assemblyman Raj Mukherji. “Providing a parent resource guide that will be made with recommendations from parents who are personally putting their deaf or hard of hearing children through school will undoubtedly provide support that may be hard to find for other parents.”

“This law provides parents of deaf or hearing impaired children with vital and relevant information so they can advocate for their children and ensure they meet their potential despite their challenges,” said Assemblyman Ralph Caputo.

“The importance of reliable and up-to-date support for parents’ decisions is critical to the overall well-being of their child,” said Assemblywoman Mila Jasey. “This law will provide both support and comfort for parents with a common interest -- the well-being of their children and their education.”

“These bills are rooted in a fundamental belief that every child deserves every opportunity – a fundamental belief that guides so much of the work of this Administration and this Legislature,” said Paul Aronsohn, Ombudsman for Individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities and Their Families. “In that spirit, these bills not only recognize the challenges and opportunities faced by many of our children and their families; they also provide a way forward.”

 The Deaf, DeafBlind, and Hard of Hearing constituents of New Jersey are most grateful for this passage of the Deaf Child Bill of Rights as it will promote the importance of communication equity for all deaf and hard of hearing children in the state of New Jersey in all programs serving throughout the state,” said Michelle Cline, Executive Director of the Walden School at The Learning Center for the Deaf. “New Jersey has become the first state to support a full comprehensive program assuring that all Deaf, DeafBlind, and hard of hearing students be given equal opportunities to obtain equitable education in a manner that would best help them thrive and communicate with teachers and students in all phases of school day.   Again special acknowledgement go to Senator Turner and Assemblyman Benson for their tireless work on behalf of the Deaf, DeafBlind and Hard of Hearing community.”

We can agree that ALL babies deserve accessible goals, dreams and family relationships, but often exposure to a fully accessible language is overlooked.  Deaf and hard of hearing children across the country are therefore put at a disadvantage before they even enter preschool,” said Amy T. Anderson, 2018 New Jersey Teacher of the Year. “Maya Angelou writes, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better. As the 2018 NJ Teacher of the Year,   I am so proud and grateful to our NJ legislators for their commitment to DO BETTER for all deaf children in New Jersey because every single child deserves the opportunity to succeed in life, not as a version of everyone else but as themselves.”