OLR Research Report

June 18, 2004




By: Soncia Coleman, Research Analyst

You wanted to know what laws Rhode Island and Massachusetts have enacted regarding the education of children who are deaf or hard of hearing, and where Connecticut law is comparable.


When developing an individualized education plan (IEP) for a child who is deaf or hard of hearing, federal special education law requires the IEP team to consider such child's (1) language and communication needs, (2) opportunities for direct communications with peers and professional personnel in the child's language and communication mode, (3) academic level, and (4) full range of needs, including opportunities for direct instruction in the child's language and communication mode (20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(3)(B)(iv)). Several states have enacted provisions, commonly referred to as an educational bill of rights, specifically addressing the needs of deaf or hard of hearing students to supplement federal requirements and their more general special education laws.

Rhode Island's law requires IEP teams for deaf and hard of hearing students to consider factors unique to those students when developing their IEP. Additionally, it sets out certain requirements regarding teacher certification and school speech and language pathologists for deaf and hard of hearing students. Finally, Rhode Island has recognized American Sign Language (ASL) as a valid and formal language. Massachusetts's law permits schools to credit ASL courses towards fulfillment of foreign language requirements, but has yet to enact a comprehensive set of educational rights for deaf children. However, legislation introduced in 2003, which is currently under study by the legislature, mirrors much of the same language as the Rhode Island laws.

With the exception of some minor provisions, Connecticut law does not specifically address the education of children who are deaf or hearing impaired. All three states have comprehensive general special education statutes.


Rhode Island law requires IEP teams to consider the following factors in establishing an IEP for deaf and hard of hearing students:

1. providing qualified teachers and professionals trained to work with deaf or hard of hearing students;

2. providing an environment that includes other deaf or hard of hearing students who are of approximately the same age and ability;

3. providing opportunities for interaction with adult role models who are deaf or hard of hearing;

4. providing full access to all components of the educational process including extracurricular activities;

5. teaching deaf or hard of hearing students in English and ASL so that they develop an “adult” level of fluency; and

6. the unique communication needs of deaf and hard of hearing students when determining the least restrictive environment as that phrase is used in state and federal law (RI Gen. Laws 16-25.2-2).

Additionally, it requires that the assessments necessary for developing an IEP for a deaf or hard of hearing student include a qualified person's assessment of the student's primary communication mode, style, and language (RI Gen. Laws 16-25.2-3). Rhode Island teachers seeking certification to teach students who are deaf or hard of hearing must demonstrate competency in ASL in addition to the English language and communication competencies that are required for certification (RI Gen. Laws 16-25.2-4). Rhode Island law also encourages school districts to employ a certain number of speech language pathologists and requires those pathologists serve on the multidisciplinary team when a speech and language evaluation or the provision of speech language services are being considered or are part of a student's program (RI Gen. Laws 16-25.3-2). Rhode Island law sets out provisions for the emergency certification of speech and language pathologists and requires the state board of education to accept American Speech-Language-Hearing Association accredited continuing education units to fulfill continuing education requirements (RI Gen. Laws 16-25.3-2, 3-4).

Finally, Rhode Island has specifically recognized the importance of ASL and given it equal status with other linguistic systems in the state's public and higher education systems (RI ST 16-25.4-2). The law requires a group to develop the educational curriculum, adopt teacher qualification standards, and implement policies and procedures for teaching ASL (RI Gen. Laws 16-25.4-3, 4-5). The law allows elementary, secondary and college students to count their credit for satisfactory completion of an ASL course as credit towards fulfillment of a foreign language requirement (RI Gen. Laws 16-25.4-5).


Massachusetts also recognizes ASL as a standard, independent language and allows districts to offer courses that school boards may credit toward satisfaction of a foreign language requirement (MGLA 71 2B). However, with the exception of a law mandating school attendance (MGLA 76 2A), Massachusetts' law does not specifically address the education of children who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Legislation introduced in Massachusetts in 2003 by Representative Patricia Jehlen, entitled An Act Establishing a Bill of Rights for Children Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing, mirrors much of the same provisions as Rhode Island law (see, House Bill No. 2408, 183rd Gen. Ct., 2003 Reg. Sess.). The proposed legislation would impose certain certification requirements on teachers and paraprofessionals, require the board to provide information to schools concerning educational, medical, cultural and linguistic issues of deafness and hearing loss, and establish an advisory council.

If passed, the legislation would make a number of findings and declarations regarding the educational rights students who are deaf and hard of hearing. Six of these provisions are almost identical to the six provisions of Rhode Island law enumerated above.

Additionally, this legislation would also provide that students who are deaf and hard of hearing are entitled to: (1) appropriate screening and assessment, (2) early intervention, (3) their parents full participation in their educational planning and programs, (4) benefit from the development and implementation of state and regional programs for children with low incidence disabilities, (5) up to date technological devices and equipment and acoustic enhancements, and (6) a public that is fully informed about issues of deafness and hearing loss.

This legislation was introduced on January 1, 2003 and referred to the Joint Committee on Education, Arts and Humanities. The bill was set aside for study on November 19, 2003 and referred to the House Rules Committee accompanied by a study order. While the bill can be removed from study and acted upon at any time, an Education, Arts and Humanities committee staff member reports that such action is not being considered at this time.

Massachusetts does have regulations governing the subject matter knowledge requirements for special education teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing, including ASL and other general knowledge regarding the special needs of such children (603 CMR 7.06). Additionally, Massachusetts's regulations require states that all eligible students must have access to school facilities, including those areas necessary to implement the student's IEP. Districts are required to provide whatever equipment and make whatever physical adaptations are necessary to comply with this provision, including acoustical and lighting treatments to remove physical communication barriers for students who are deaf or hard of hearing (603 CMR 28.03).


Connecticut currently has only a few statutory provisions that specifically address the education of deaf students. Section 10-16b of the Connecticut General Statutes requires a local or regional board to exempt deaf or hard of hearing students from foreign language requirements upon the written request of the parent or guardian. Connecticut law allows ASL or signed English to count as the language arts course that public schools are required to offer, provided that a qualified instructor teaches the course under the supervision of a certified teacher (CGS 10-16b).

Finally, Connecticut law provides that the State Board of Education is empowered to appoint a consultant qualified in the education of hearing-impaired and deaf children and fix and pay such consultant's compensation (CGS 10-316a).

The education of children who are deaf or hard of hearing is covered by Connecticut's special education statutes and regulations, which broadly provide for the education of children with special needs including: (1) free appropriate education in the least restrictive environment (SDE Regs. 10-76d-1), (2) certified or licensed personnel necessary to implement a child's IEP (SDE Regs. 10-76d-2), (3) assessments given in the child's dominant mode of communication and in a manner that accurately reflects the child's aptitude (CGS 10-76ff and SDE Regs. 10-76d-9), and 4) the opportunity to participate in all aspects of the educational program, including extracurricular activities (SDE Regs. 10-76d-1). Additionally, Connecticut has teacher certification requirements specifically related to the teaching of hearing impaired students (SDE Regs. 10-145d-535).