In June 2009 five individuals convened in order to ask Delaware to begin providing families affected by childhood hearing loss with an alternative to a school where use of American Sign Language is a requirement. Several of those people had been working on this problem for many years, going back as far as the mid-1970s, when the Margaret Sterck School—now Delaware School for the Deaf—decided to embrace a philosophy of language acquisition and education that it continues to embrace.
Choices includes parents, educators, health care professionals, and advocates. Profiles of some of those individuals are listed in the Wheo We Are section of this website.
They remain committed to this vision: that families affected by childhood hearing loss will have access to
• Early intervention counseling that will enable parents to choose a primary language for their child that best suits the needs, culture, and values of their families and to access services that will make it possible for the child to attain such a primary language.
• Pre-kindergarten educational programs that will move their child towards his or her language goal, whether that goal be American Sign Language, Listening and Spoken Language, or a customized solution.
• Post-kindergarten educational settings that enable Delaware to comply with requirements of federal law, in particular, the requirement for a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.
In February 2012, Lieutenant Governor Matthew Denn committed the State to the following goals:
(a) improvements in the newborn hearing screening and birth-to-3 family service processes; and
(b) a pre-school that fosters the use of Listening and Spoken Language.
What follows is a brief history of Choices that shows how we reached that point, together with events that have occurred since then. On our home page, we plan to maintain a chart showing progress of the state in achieving these goals.
Key Events in the History of Choices Delaware, Year by Year
- Family interviews
- Clarke School connection
- Overtures to Statewide/DSD
- Meeting with Lieutenant Governor Denn, Director of Statewide Programs Dr. Della Thomas, Rep. Quinn Johnson, and others
- Presentations at meetings of the State Council for Persons with Disabilities (SCPD) and the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens (GACEC)
- Interviews of Ellen Hall, Amanda Mangiardi, and Nick Fina on WHYY TV and Radio
- Presentations to various groups of health care professionals and to the University of Delaware’s School of Education by Drs. Teixido and Fina
- Meetings with Lt. Gov. Denn and then Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery
- Lieutenant governor’s directive that an “inclusive” committee (including Choices) would develop a strategy for the future of deaf education in Delaware; the committee formed under the auspices of the GACEC
- With the affirmative votes of Choices members Dr. Thierry Morlet and Dr. Fina, a subcommittee approves the design of a Listening and Spoken Language preschool
- During the winter and spring months, Statewide Programs gradually alters the concept of the Listening and Spoken Language preschool. Instead, what emerges is a birth-to-5 family education program that will be led, at least initially, by a voices-off, signing Deaf person
- Under the leadership of Dr. Teixido Choices, the Delaware Academy of Medicine, and the Delaware Academy of Otolaryngology co-sponsor UPDATE 2011: Managing Listening, Language & Educational Outcomes for Today’s Children with Hearing Loss, a day-long symposium that attracts about 100 participants with prominent speakers from around the country
- Choices expresses its dissatisfaction with the outcome of the GACEC Committee to state officials
- In July Statewide Programs director Dr. Thomas makes the following announcement: “Good news! Statewide Programs were able to free up a unit and have decided to use it to hire an AV Ed (or person that wants to be one) to work birth to 5 in the homes statewide! We are calling this position an Early Interventionist/Auditory-Oral and will require AV Ed certification (or willingness to obtain). We feel like this will definitely provide a necessary augmentation to the FACES program.”
- At the suggestion of former State Representative Jane Maroney, Choices initiates discussions about a collaborative private school solution with Clarke School for Hearing and Speech in Bryn Mawr and Pilot School in Wilmington
- In November one of the individuals hired by Statewide programs four months earlier (the “Early Interventionist/Auditory-Oral” teacher) resigns, after having received no work assignments
- Dr. Fina communicates concerns to Lieutenant Governor Denn
- In early January Dr. Fina meets for the first time on this issue with Secretary of Health and Social Services Rita Landgraf. She expresses strong support and initiates a meeting of stakeholders with key members of her staff later the same month.
- In his Dover office on February 13 Lieutenant Governor Denn discloses directives for improvements in the areas of preschool education, newborn screening, and the family services referral process.
- Clarke School hosts two visits: one by the lieutenant governor, Rosanne Griff-Cabelli, a manager in DHSS who is responsible for the Child Development Watch function, and Dr. Fina; and the second by Mary Ann Mieczkowski and Dr. Thomas. Ms. Mieczkowski, who is an Acting Associate Secretary of Education and Director of Exceptional Children Resources for Delaware, leads the pre-school implementation committee, which includes Choices members Amanda Mangiardi and Susan Sahadevan.
- State Representative Quinn Johnson sponsors House Bill 388 to improve the newborn hearing screening program. Choices decides to support the bill after Representative Johnson changes some of the original language of the bill. Governor Markell signs the bill into law in August.
- A committee distributes a first draft of an early hearing detection and intervention process definition, encompassing two of the three February initiatives. In September, Choices issues a memorandum with suggested improvements. In early January the committee issues a second draft of the memorandum, addressing very few of the Choices improvement suggestions from September.
- The pre-school committee meets several times in 2012. The pre-school will be located in the Christina School District Early Education Center, in the old DSD building. The team elects to set up two programs: one based on an established model for two-year-olds called Stay and Play, and the other for three- and four-year-olds. Renovations to the classroom were in progress and two job postings remained unfilled at the end of 2012.
- Renovations to the classroom are complete, and Choices members Ashley Mahlstedt, a Smith College graduate student, and Amanda Mangiardi helped outfit and organize the room. Two job postings remained unfilled.
- Secretary Landgraf accepts Dr. Fina’s offer to help improve the EHDI process definition. She asks him to work with Dr. Karyl Rattay, Director of Public Health, on this project.
- The preschool committee meets on February 1, redoubling its efforts to staff and populate the program.
- Delaware House of Representative passes HR20, a resolution to create a task force to make recommendations regarding the Delaware School for the Deaf, Statewide Programs for the Deaf, Heard of Hearing, and Deaf-blind. Notably missing from the groups to be represented on the task force is Choices.
- Choices writes to Lieutenant Governor Denn, asking for an update on the February 2012 initiatives.
- Listening and Spoken Language pre-school begins operations in the Christina Early Education Center.
- Mia Papas, Ellen Hall, Linda Heller, and Nick Fina meet with Senators Patricia Blevins, Karen Peterson, and Bethany Hall-Long in September.
- The group contacts members of the Joint Finance Committee regarding concerns about funding for deaf/hard-of-hearing education.
- Thiery Morlet, Eileen Reynolds, and Nick Fina meet with Joint Finance Committee member Senator Brian Bushweller.
- Nick Fina, Kathryn Hall, Mia Papas, and Linda Heller present testimony at the Joint Finance Committee.
- Although no member of Choices received an appointment to serve on the HR 20 Task Force, Eileen Reynolds and Nick Fina attended the February 10 meeting. In late March, at least five members participated in feedback sessions of the task force.
- The HR20 Task Force issued a report that recommended formation of the equivalent of a statewide school district for children with hearing loss. Choices, the State Council for Persons with Disabilities, and the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens all asked the House not to take action on the Task Force recommendations.
- Nevertheless, the House passed HR42, endorsing the report and forming an implementation task force.
- Choices expresses its concerns to two agencies of the federal Department of Education.