On April 6, the House of Representatives voted to approve Iowa Senate amendments to House File 604, “An act relating to language and literacy development for deaf and hard of hearing children.” This is Iowa’s version of LEAD-K legislation, which now goes to the governor for signing. LEAD-K is the acronym for Language Equality & Acquisition for Deaf Kids. This is the sixth year stakeholders, including Iowa LEAD-K, Deaf Coalition of Iowa (DCI), Iowa Association of the Deaf (IAD), Iowa School for the Deaf and the Board of Regents, have worked to pass legislation. Last year the bill passed the Iowa House but not the Senate. Since then, a lot of discussions, collaborations, and negotiations have taken place between the Senate education committee, Department of Education, Area Education Agency (AEA) service providers, the Early Hearing Detection & Intervention program (EHDI), IAD, DCI, and the Board of Regents.
If Gov. Kim Reynolds signs the bill, Iowa will become the 19th state to pass the legislation.
“This year HF 604 was supported by all the constituents,” said Steve Gettel, superintendent for Iowa School for the Deaf. “This is a testament to the hard work and commitment of everyone involved. We all want deaf and hard-of-hearing students to have access to language and communication at the earliest possible age. We want families to have information and support from mentors. And we want children to have support for the development of both ASL and English, whichever language works best for each child.”
Gettel noted HF 604 will do all these things; however, funding still needs to be approved for family and deaf mentors. “This work cannot begin until the money is appropriated,” he said. “We are hopeful funding will be included in the budget bill before the end of the session.”
Once LEAD-K has passed, the following actions will occur:
- The Department of Education is required to work with stakeholders to maintain a valid and reliable two-fold language assessment approach, utilizing both American Sign Language and English, in selecting milestones, compiling data, employing qualified personnel and distributing resources.
- The Department of Education is required to develop parent resources so parents of deaf or hard-of-hearing children will have all the information they need pertaining to language development; and the department must develop resources for early interventionists, educators, hospitals and health care providers pertaining to language development.
- Tools or assessments will be selected for use by teachers and administrators in a format that shows stages of language development, to track the development of deaf and hard-of-hearing children’s expressive and receptive language acquisition or developmental stages toward American Sign Language and English literacy, and be appropriate in both content and administration for use with deaf and hard-of-hearing children.
- The advisory committee contained in the original bill is eliminated, but this past year the Department of Education created a stakeholder group that has gone a long way to improving relationships and working together.
- A family support mentoring program will be created for parents who provide their consent, to pair them with other families of deaf or hard-of-hearing children or with an adult deaf mentor. This program is contingent upon a state appropriation for this purpose.
When it is fully implemented, HF 604 will ensure deaf and hard-of-hearing children have access to ASL, can read and write English, and receive the education they deserve to be successful and independent.