PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The state Department of Education should count all children in South Dakota who have hearing loss, from birth through high school, a panel of the Legislature decided Wednesday.
The House Education Committee voted 9-6 to endorse HB 1228. The measure faces a House debate Thursday. State law currently requires counts of children through age five who are deaf or hard of hearing. The change would take effect August 1, 2021, if approved.
“This would be a simple data collection from every school,” said Representative Erin Healy, a Sioux Falls Democrat. The bill’s prime sponsor, she wants schools to help students who have hearing loss but aren’t in special education.
Linda Turner, state director of special education, opposed the bill. She said the first report that the current law requires isn’t due until August 1.
Turner said there isn’t a reliable way to gather the information that’s being sought, there isn’t an estimated cost, the legislation needs better definitions, and there isn’t a mandated statewide assessment to identify children who are deaf or hard of hearing.
“It’s just not information we collect at the state level,” Turner said.
Parents who are deaf or have children with hearing problems argued Wednesday the department doesn’t count all children who are hard of hearing.
Turner said the preliminary numbers show 208 special-education students who are deaf or have hearing loss.
Parents and deaf-community advocates believe that South Dakota has about 400 more who are hard of hearing.
Chad Bolstad of Sioux Falls testified by telephone about his age-five son, whose hearing was screened at age three. The screening found the boy had a hearing problem that eventually could lead him to drop out of school, Bolstad said, but wasn’t put on an individual education plan.
Bolstad said he didn’t know he could seek an appeal.
Representative Isaac Latterell, a Tea Republican, said some of his constituents have tried the grievance process without success. Latterell said all schools aren’t testing for all hearing losses.
Representative Timothy Johns, a Lead Republican, took the other side: “I don’t think this is going to help any at all to find the information people are looking for.”
The state Department of Education has a multi-year agreement for special services with the state School for the Deaf in Sioux Falls and state School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Aberdeen.
Most services for South Dakota’s deaf students are provided in their communities. The School for the Deaf was relocated last year.
The new location, at 4101 W. 38th Street, is the former call-center building that TCF Bank owned. The state Board of Regents that operates the two special schools paid $5.1 million for the one-story building.
The purchase came as part of a complex real-estate deal. The regents sold the remaining 14 acres of the old School for the Deaf campus at 2001 E. Eighth Street in Sioux Falls to Sioux Falls Ministry Center for $6.8 million.
The Senate later failed to approve SB 117. Needing a two-thirds majority of 24, it fell six ayes short, 18-17. Senator Reynold Nesiba, a Sioux Falls Democrat, gave notice he planned to reconsider it. The bill would have required the state Department of Education to establish a program and policy for school districts on deaf students.