Education committee passes deaf education bill

    Pennsylvania lawmakers are showing support for a Bryn Mawr school that has a fairly unique approach to teaching children with hearing disabilities.

    Pennsylvania lawmakers are showing support for a school that has a fairly unique approach to teaching children with hearing disabilities. Officials at the school say House members are simply responding to the changing landscape of deaf education.

    Schools for the deaf are typically oriented toward American Sign Language. The Clarke School in Bryn Mawr focuses on getting kids who wear hearing technology to listen and speak in oral English.

    Corwin: The landscape has changed so dramatically even in the last dozen years.

    Bill Corwin is president of the school, and the father of two former students. He says increasingly parents are choosing to have their children outfitted with digital hearing aids or cochlear implants — and to have them use spoken English in typical schools.

    The Clarke School prepares children for mainstream education, but it’s not one of the state’s Approved Private Schools, meaning no state subsidies for parents. The school has been petitioning for an opportunity to get approved, but the Pennsylvania Department of Education turned them down. Spokesman Steve Weitzman:

    Weitzman: It’s not about the Clarke school, it’s we’re not taking any applications. There’s a line item in the budget which is not increasing and accepting new schools would dilute what’s already going on out there.

    The Pennsylvania House Education Committee passed a bill that would automatically give Clarke School Approved Private School status. Democratic Representative James Roebuck sponsored the bill.

    Roebuck:
    We’d like to make them part of the cohort of schools that are Approved Private Schools, so we’d have to put more money into that part of the budget.

    Roebuck says the full House may take up the bill in the fall.

    The Clarke School’s Bill Corwin says in the long run the school saves the state money, by keeping children out of expensive, specialized deaf schools.

    Corwin: We’re talking about a preschool program only whose focus is on getting these kids mainstreamed as quickly as possible.

    All of Clarke School’s graduates enter mainstream schools by first grade.

    The only Approved Private School in Pennsylvania that has the same focus on oral deaf education is in Pittsburgh.

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