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Visually impaired students demand a better state education

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Delaware Public Media
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Delaware lawmakers are pledging to help visually impaired students as the state struggles to keep up with a demand for services.

Several kids and their families spoke to the Joint Finance Committee Tuesday of a lack of certified teachers versed in braille – with some children only getting an hour a week of instruction.

“We may need to spend some money…so kids like me can have more teachers to help us figure out how to learn braille," said Xavier Lawrence, a second grader at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School in Newark.

His mother, Sonya Lawrence, excoriated the state Division for the Visually Impaired, noting that Xavier still reads at a first grade level – something she says is a byproduct of teachers who either retired or left the division and weren't immediately replaced.

"Don't let people fool you. These kids are not getting the services they need," she said.

Division director Daniel Madrid says they currently have seven certified teachers to spread among 15 braille learners and 260 total students. They're close to hiring two more teachers and are seeking four more contractors who may or may not be certified in braille by the end of the year.

Still, Madrid requested no additional positions in his presentation to JFC, just a one-time, nearly $40,000 technology grant.

Elizabeth Harrington, an Appoquinimink high school senior who was born without eyes, just returned to the Delaware after transferring to the Maryland School for the Blind to seek a better education.

Needing support five days a week from a certified teacher, Harrington says she gets three instead. 

"What makes this worse is that I'm preparing to go to college," she said. "I must tell you that high school has been a struggle for me without the right services."

"It's despicable that she had to go out of state to get her [education]," noted Sen. Dave Lawson (R-Marydel).

Other JFC members promised to meet with Madrid and others at the division to take "concrete steps" toward finding a solution.

Co-chair Sen. Harris McDowell (D-Wilmington North) added the state should also consult with colleges and universities in developing graduate programs to train the next generation of teachers for the visually impaired.