Deaf student may not be able to graduate with teaching degree because of interpreter regulations
After completing almost all of the requirements to graduate from the College of Education, one student’s degree is at risk because of something she cannot control.
Kelly Laatsch, a senior from Freeland, has been deaf since birth. She is in her final year of the education program and is completing her student teaching requirement in a class of hard of hearing students in Saginaw.
Laatsch requested an interpreter to complete this requirement and was told by Karen Edwards, director of student teaching, that if she were to utilize an interpreter, she wouldn’t pass her student teaching requirements.
Laatsch said she brought a section of the Michigan Department of Education Teaching Technical Standards that states (students) should “understand and speak in English” to Edwards’ attention. The document also states students may complete this requirement “with or without reasonable accommodations.”
Despite Laatsch’s efforts, Edwards and Susie Rood, director of Student Disability Services, told her she would need to complete a portion of her student teaching without the aid of an interpreter.
Rood and Edwards created an “Action Plan” designed to wean Laatsch off of an interpreter so she could “become independent.”
“The action plan allowed me to use an interpreter full time for the first two weeks. The following two weeks I could only use an interpreter half time, then for the rest of the semester I needed to show that I can teach without an interpreter,” Laatsch said. “Being severely-profoundly deaf since birth, I knew this wasn’t going to work out. I tried convincing them that even with my cochlear implants and being able to hear and speak well, I still cannot hear as well as a hearing person can.”
Laatsch said in an email that although she is allowed an interpreter part time, she was told the continued use of the interpreter may impact whether she passes student teaching because it hinders her independence as a teacher.
After trying the “Action Plan” for a few weeks, Laatsch again requested full-time interpreters. Rood hired an interpreting agency in Saginaw to accompany Laatsch daily.
“There are days where I will have one or two interpreters. Other days, I’ll have different interpreters throughout one day. Some days, I will go without any interpreter from between 30 minutes to a few hours,” she said. “This is confusing for me and for the students. The class has a lot of students who are at-risk and they very much need consistency.”
At a meeting Laatsch had with Rood and Edwards last week, she was given two options.
“They gave me two options to think about: I could not pass student teaching and just get a bachelors of science (non-teaching), or sign a waiver stating that I will never seek teaching certification in the state of Michigan,” Laatsch said. “I was baffled with both suggestions, especially the latter one. Even though I plan on teaching deaf and hard-of-hearing students, I still want to get my bachelor of science in elementary education.”
Edwards was contacted and acknowleged the incident but declined comment. Rood did not return several calls for comment.
Laatsch filed her case regarding her reasonable accommodations with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights in October, and the case was expected to take as long as 180 days to be reviewed.
This isn’t the first time Laatsch has had difficulty with the education program.
In 2010, she attempted to transfer to Michigan State University to take advantage of the certified deaf education program. When she learned MSU would be phasing out the program by 2013, she chose to remain at Central Michigan University and attempt to create a program.
“I’m sure it’s going to be a long process, but I think it would be really beneficial for students,” Laatsch said in a 2010 Central Michigan Life article.
The program never took off at CMU.
“Currently, I’m just taking it day by day with a lot of unnecessary stress,” Laatsch said about her current issue. “I am loving my student teaching experience in the classroom and look forward to the rest of the semester. But, I believe I should be able to pursue anything I want to do and utilize my reasonable accommodation. It’s my right.”
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