Rhode Island's Blind and V.I. Students Deserve Equitable Access to a Quality Education
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We, the Blind and Visually Impaired Students of RI, the Parents of the Blind and Visually Impaired Students and other Concerned Citizens are appalled that our team of TVI's (Teachers of the Visually Impaired) and O&M (Orientation and Mobility) Specialists provided through the Sherlock Center have been laid off. These teachers provide Braille instruction, advise on accommodations including technology needs, and teach skills necessary for navigating the environment. Our children are distraught to know that their beloved and qualified teachers will not be with them for their summer programs or the next school year. This seems particularly cruel in the throes of a pandemic that has already severely impacted our children's education.
The State has offered no clear plan about how they will continue the quality of services for our children. The Sherlock Center TVI's and O&M specialists hold advanced degrees and have decades of experience among them. There is no assurance that a bidding war will replace them with qualified people. Yet, this is what the State is proposing.
Under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), students with disabilities are guaranteed equal access to education under the law. Deaf students in RI benefit from a secure, established program with wonderfully qualified educators to meet their needs, funded 99% by the State. Unfortunately, Blind and VI Students in RI have never been given the same consideration. Now, with as little forethought as one would have for changing the office paper vendor, RI has fired our teachers and only has a vague plan for accepting bids to replace them.
1) We are asking the State of RI to create a permanent line item in the State Budget to sustain quality programs and highly qualified educators for blind children, just as they have for the School for the Deaf. We believe the most direct and successful way to achieve this is to structure a permanent solution using the TVI's and O&M Specialists from the Sherlock Center. These education specialists are highly qualified, already have a lengthy rapport with our children, and they are Rhode Island teachers. This keeps RI jobs in Rhode Island.
2) We believe the proposed creation of a Master Price Agreement for Blind and VI services disregards our children and their success entirely. There is no way to guarantee continuity of a high level of service in such a plan. Rhode Island needs to provide highly qualified instructors to Blind and Visually Impaired students in order to meet the requirements of equal access to education under IDEA. The TVI's and O&M specialists from the Sherlock Center have been successfully providing these services for decades and should not be discarded.
3) Finally, we are asking Governor Dan McKee, the RI Legislature and the Rhode Island Department of Education to establish a plan and an avenue of communication with all of the stakeholders in education for the Blind and Visually Impaired. We, the students and parents, had no notice for this devastating change to vision services in the State. We learned that our beloved Sherlock Center TVI's and O&M Specialists were being laid off from a Providence Journal Article. Furthermore, we have spoken to Special Education Directors from various districts who only learned about this either from our advocacy or the newspaper. We cannot imagine that any other subgroup in Rhode Island's schools are treated with such nonchalance. We want to be at the table when serious changes are discussed that will impact the education and future of our children.
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