In August, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont signed Public Act No. 19-184 into law. The “Act Concerning the Provision of Special Education” stipulates that Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for students identified as deaf or hard of hearing must include a communication plan for alerting students to emergencies.
Ever since the passage of the Rehabilitation Act in 1973, students with disabilities in public school systems have had the same rights as students without disabilities. This law was extended to apply to non-federally funded programs in the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, and reinforced in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act the same year.
Organizations representing the interests of deaf students have published information about schools’ obligations under these laws, and how schools can develop communication plans within Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). However, federal guidance has been limited due to Congress delegating responsibility for school disability programs to the states in the Every Student Succeeds Act 2015.
Of the federal guidance that exists, examples are a joint FAQ published by the Departments of Justice and Education, and a “Guide for Developing High Quality School Emergency Operating Plans” published by the Department of Education’s Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools Office - the latter document briefly mentioning the need for visual alarms to alert deaf students to emergencies.
State Guidance for Emergency Communication Planning
Even before Congress delegated responsibility for school disability programs to the states, many had already introduced their own disability acts. With regards to hard of hearing students, South Dakota was the first to enact a Deaf Child’s Bill of Rights in 1993. The Bill instructed the state’s Department of Education to establish a program to promote the education of deaf and hard-of-hearing children.
South Dakota’s lead was followed by several other states; but whereas most states provide excellent guidance for communicating in an educational setting, few address the needs of deaf and hard of hearing students in an emergency. Of those that do, Pennsylvania’s “Safety Checklist for IEP Teams” is an excellent example of how to build emergency communication planning into an IEP.
Now Connecticut has identified the need to codify emergency communication planning into IEPs for hard of hearing students. The state recently passed an “Act Concerning the Provision of Special Education” (Public Act 19-184) which stipulates that emergency communication plans not only have to take into account how a student will be notified of an emergency, but also how their needs will be met during the emergency situation.
The Challenges of Implementing Connecticut’s Act
There are multiple challenges involved in implementing Connecticut’s Act. First of all any visual alarm system used to alert hard of hearing students to emergencies has to be capable of communicating the nature of the emergency. Fires, environmental hazards, and active shooter events should each have different responses; so it is important not to give a student the impression they have to evacuate when an active shooter is on school premises.
Then, if (for example) a student is given an instruction to hide, how is he or she supposed to know when it is safe to emerge from their hiding place if any visual alarm system is out of sight? Similarly, if they are notified of a fire and multiple evacuation routes exist, they need to know which evacuation route is the safest to take in order to avoid heading into danger. Other concerns may exist when the location of an incident changes or if the student is out of the classroom when an alert is sent.
With regards to meeting students’ needs during an emergency situation, the different types of emergency scenarios can lead to multiple difficulties in achieving this objective. It might be difficult for a hard of hearing student to hear the instructions of first responders or emergency managers; there may be times when he or she requires assistance but cannot communicate verbally; or occasions when they are unable to share information that could enhance situational awareness.
How A Mass Notification Platform Can Help Resolve the Challenges
By utilizing a Software-as-a-Service application, such as an efficient mass notification system, schools can send emergency alerts from any Internet-connected device. Authorized users log into the application and select the appropriate emergency notification template and who the alert will be sent to. Within seconds, the selected recipients are notified of the location and nature of the emergency via their mobile devices.
Schools should look for a mass notification platform that supports both short-form and long-form alerts so that (for example) emergency notifications can be delivered by SMS text with further instructions delivered by email. The system can be used to provide hard of hearing students with reliable updates from a trusted source, facilitate two-way communication by SMS text during an emergency, and check on students’ well-being.
Our K-12 mass notification system has the above capabilities to assist in an emergency situation. Interested in learning more?
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