We the Deaf People recognizes that while there are some excellent public-school programs for Deaf students, and that some Deaf people have done well in public-school settings, overall, mainstreaming has not served the Deaf community well. In general, it has had a disastrous impact on our community.
The problems surrounding mainstreaming are well-known and well-publicized: the isolation experienced by Deaf students, having unqualified interpreters, being placed in classes taught by teachers who have no special training and no understanding of the learning styles of Deaf children, placements made to fulfill political mandates without taking into consideration the child’s need for an accessible language and socialization. Far too many Deaf people have expressed their dissatisfaction with their public-school experiences. Mainstreaming has not solved the language-deprivation problem rampant in our community; indeed, it has aggravated it.
The Amy June Rowley case (which reached the Supreme Court) involving a Deaf student who requested an interpreter from her public-school district and was refused because she was doing acceptable work, highlighted the shortcomings of mainstreaming. The schools were required to provide a “free and appropriate public education,” an adequate education, but under no legal obligation to provide the highest-quality education. (The Rowley family lost their appeal, so the school district still refused to provide an interpreter. When the Rowleys relocated to New Jersey, Amy enrolled in a school that did provide an interpreter, and she benefited from it, becoming an outstanding student.) We are not satisfied with merely “free and appropriate;” we want the best for Deaf students. Deaf children deserve the highest possible quality of education, not one that is merely adequate.
A key point is the law’s mandating that children be educated in the “least restrictive environment” (LRE). The original mainstream law made these provisions for children with various physical disabilities; they weren’t thinking of the language and learning needs of Deaf children, which is why the application of these laws has been fraught with problems and complications, and why mainstreaming has failed to provide a good education to so many Deaf people. For many Deaf children, the LRE is the school for the deaf, which is too often seen as the last resort, not the prime choice, and has been used as a dumping ground for failures of the auditory-oral method.
We also note that since there is no single national standard for teachers of the deaf, it is possible to earn certification in this field without knowing a single ASL sign. We believe that any teacher of Deaf students should have a working knowledge of ASL.
Mainstreaming, on the whole, has had a disastrous effect on the Deaf community. Public schools are not necessarily the “least restrictive environment” for Deaf children. Their language, academic, intellectual, and social needs should always be taken into account when placements are being discussed. We insist on Deaf students having qualified interpreters, teachers who are certified to teach Deaf students and who understand and speak ASL.