[This is a corrected version of this blog. See note at the end of the entry.]
When Latrice Safford first brought her son to Baby Boomers International Preschool in Pompano Beach last August, she noticed some strange things about the classroom.
There were no desks, for example. But the worst part, she says, was that the teacher was not fluent in sign language.
Safford's 4-year-old son, Jermeko Harris, is deaf. He can put on his shoes, use the
potty, and warm up Hot Pockets in the microwave. But he can't hear what
his teacher is saying, and it leaves him endlessly frustrated. "I have
to be his voice," Safford says.
Baby Boomers is a private school, contracted by Broward County schools to teach deaf children in classrooms with other kids. Safford says Jermeko was transferred there last fall after the deaf program at another Broward elementary school shut down.
Safford, who is not deaf, says Jermeko had been learning American Sign Language at his other school. But his new Baby Boomers teacher isn't fluent in it.
There is a deaf aide in the classroom, Safford says, and she can communicate with the deaf children, but she's not teaching them sign language.
Sign language is the accepted form of communication in the deaf community. Just like Spanish or French, it has its own grammar and vocabulary, and deaf children generally learn it before they learn English.
Antonio Salgado, father of another deaf preschooler, says Broward officials refused to put American Sign Language on his daughter's Individualized Education Plan -- a required document for children with disabilities.
Instead, school officials told him they teach deaf children using flashcards, computers, and a mixed version of English and sign language.
Salgado moved so his daughter could attend another school.
Safford is still fighting to improve the situation for Jermeko. "My son's so smart," she says. "It just really, really upsets me."
Neither Julia Musella, director of Baby Boomers, nor Terry Spurlock, curriculum supervisor for deaf education in Broward schools, responded to the Juice's requests for comment yesterday.
Stay tuned for updates on this story.
UPDATE:To read Musella's response, click here.
CORRECTION: The original version of this post contained some errors, because the Juice could not reach Musella before the blog was published. We regret the errors.
At Baby Boomers, there is a white "smart board," not a blackboard, in the classroom for deaf and hearing-impaired children. The teacher, who has a temporary certificate to teach hearing-impaired children from the state of Florida, and a bachelor's degree in speech pathology and audiology, speaks to the children simultaneously in English and American Sign Language (ASL).
A classroom aide, who is a deaf, high-school graduate working toward a child-care training certificate, speaks to them in Signed English and ASL.