Sign language interpreters make a March 1 House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee meeting accessible for deaf and hard-of-hearing attendees (Tim Bommel/Missouri House Communications).
Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary education will for the first time create developmental standards for deaf and hard-of-hearing children under legislation signed by Gov. Mike Parson Thursday.
It’s a change deaf advocates have been working on since 2016.
Nicknamed LEAD-K, or language equality and acquisition for deaf kids, it has been established in over 20 states.
Advocates for LEAD-K believe the creation of developmental milestones and improved access to resources statewide will lead to more deaf and hard-of-hearing kindergarten students entering school with a foundational understanding of language.
Sen. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, and Rep. Jerome Barnes, D-Raytown, filed LEAD-K bills this legislative session. Razer’s bill was never heard in committee, and Barnes’ passed committee after a lengthy public hearing but was never debated by the full House.
Razer added the legislation as an amendment to a wide-ranging bill that was originally written to allow the opening of a fifth adult high school.
“The evidence points to the fact that the current system of education for deaf kids is not working,” Barnes said in a House hearing in March. “The current system is just not working for the deaf community.”
Deaf and hard-of-hearing Missourians and educators say children can often have “language deprivation,” meaning they don’t know as many words as they should. But parents may not be aware because there isn’t a standard assessment for deaf children under five.
This legislation would pinpoint such an assessment through the work of a committee composed of largely deaf and hard-of-hearing members. The committee would work with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
“With LEAD-K, deaf and hard-of-hearing children’s future is brighter,” Paul Kiel, president of the Missouri Association of the Deaf, told The Independent. “Their language acquisition, mental health and self-esteem will gradually improve.”
Other amendments added to the bill signed Thursday include the modification of the state’s required high school health class. Now renamed “health and family education,” the class will get a refresh by the State Board of Education — which will convene a work group and mapping out curriculum.
The bill states that there will be an emphasis on “behavioral health relating to the causes of morbidity and mortality of youth, chronic disease management, and parenting skills associated with optimal family health over a lifetime.”
It also outlines public school funding norms for students whom the Department of Social Services or Department of Mental Health places outside of their normal resident district.
The legislation grants college athletes permission to profit off their name, image and likeness and directs universities to develop a process for licensing. High-school athletes may also profit after signing a letter of intent to compete with a Missouri college.
The bill signed by Parson on Thursday is one of few education-related bills to pass this legislative session, after GOP infighting in the Senate derailed House education priorities.
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