Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

The Role of Specialized Schools for Students with Visual Impairments in the Continuum of Placement Options: The Right Help, at the Right Time, in the Right Place

Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

The Role of Specialized Schools for Students with Visual Impairments in the Continuum of Placement Options: The Right Help, at the Right Time, in the Right Place

Article excerpt

The education of children with visual impairments (that is, those who are blind or have low vision) in the United States began with the establishment of three residential schools for students with visual impairments that were erected between 1829 and 1832. The schools were located in what were then rural parts of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, and students lived at the schools during the school year. Prior to the establishment of these schools, children with visual impairments were either cared for in the home of a relative or sent to an almshouse, and they were rarely offered any education (Freeberg, 2002).

In the course of the next 100 years, residential schools for students with visual impairments were established in many states. As populations increased around these schools, many of the schools began enrolling local students who would attend school each day and then go home to their families each afternoon. Such school are now commonly referred to as specialized schools for students with visual impairments rather than as residential schools.

Prior to the 1950s, the vast majority of students with visual impairments were educated at specialized schools. In a few locations around the United States, such students were able to attend general education classes. However, it wasn't until the middle of the 1950s that this became a common practice in school districts around the country (Castellano, 2005). Students could then be educated alongside nondisabled peers with the support of local teachers who were specifically trained to teach students with visual impairments in itinerant, resource, or consultative models of service delivery.

The most significant change in the education of students with disabilities in the United States occurred in 1975, with the passage of the Education of All Handicapped Children's Act (1975). This law guaranteed all children with disabilities the right to free public education. It also mandated that education take place in the least restrictive environment that could afford a child an appropriate education. The wording of the act anticipated that placement would differ based on the educational needs of the child. Therefore, accompanying regulations required all states to provide a continuum of placement options to ensure that appropriate options for education were available to all students with disabilities.

This legislation changed the options that were available to students with visual impairments. With supplemental supports, the majority of students with visual impairments could be educated in public school environments, mainly in general education classes. According to the 31st Report to Congress (U.S. Department of Education, 2011), almost 90% of students with visual impairments were educated in general education classrooms in 2008.

All placement options have advantages and disadvantages. It is incumbent on local educational agencies to match the child's needs to the placement that will afford that child an appropriate education. Some advantages specifically related to students in specialized schools are that students have more role models, that they feel relief from a sense of difference from sighted peers, and that they have more meaningful opportunities to participate in student leadership activities and competitive sports. Faculty and staff members in specialized schools are specifically trained to meet the needs of children with visual impairments. Specialized schools have the facilities and focus to address vision-specific instructional needs (Baker, 1982; Erin, 2007).

Some disadvantages of specialized schools are that students often need to travel long distances to attend such schools and that those who reside at the schools are away from their families during the school week. Although many specialized schools offer their students the opportunity to receive some instruction in local public schools, students enrolled at specialized schools generally have less contact with nondisabled peers than do those who attend public schools full-time. …

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