[nfbmi-talk] relevent to michigan too

joe harcz Comcast joeharcz at comcast.net
Mon Apr 4 18:00:10 UTC 2011

Parents of blind children say state cuts will hurt their education


Staff photo by Michael Ein Galloway Township eighth-grader Christopher Cruz talks with his mother, Amy Livengood, at their home. News that state budget

cuts could eliminate the special tutoring he gets at school through the Commission on the Blind worries his family.


Posted: Saturday, April 2, 2011 8:06 pm | Updated: 9:13 am, Sun Apr 3, 2011.


Parents of blind children say state cuts will hurt their education

By DIANE D'AMICO Education Writer pressofAtlanticCity.com |


When Elizabeth Morgan was almost 12, a brain tumor left her completely blind. Today, the 11th-grader attends Vineland High School with help from an aide,

special equipment and special teachers provided by the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired.


Christopher Cruz, 13, has been blind since birth. He takes the bus to Galloway Township Middle School, where he participates in gym class and performs science

experiments. He also takes clarinet, piano and kung fu lessons, all possible because of training from commission teachers, said his mother, Amy Livengood.


The proposed FY 2012 state budget reduces the number of CBVI teaching positions by 29 percent, from 70 to 50, saving $1.5 million. Officials at the Department

of Human Services said the reduction in staff is in response to a 27 percent reduction in the number of people requiring services and the availability

of some services from other agencies. They said the cuts apply only to the 20 instructor positions, not to other services or staff.


But Morgan and other families of the more than 2,000 young people receiving services are concerned the cuts could still mean a reduction in services they

say are crucial to their children's future. They say teachers are already stretched trying to reach students all over the state.


Morgan wants to attend college and still must learn skills she will need to navigate mostly on her own. A friend at Rowan University has told her how the

commission helped her prepare.


"Next year is her senior year in high school," Morgan's mother, Marie Griffin, said. "She needs the commission's services now more than ever to help her

get ready for college."


Cruz will attend high school next year. His mother and grandmother said it is commission staff that will work with them on ways to make the transition easier,

such as touring and mapping Absegami High School over the summer so he can become familiar with the layout, identifying books he may need in Braille, and

working out how he can participate in the band.


"The commission is our go-to source," said Lorraine Cruz, Christopher's grandmother. His CBVI teacher has worked with his classroom teachers so help him

adapt lessons so he can stay on track.


Information provided by the DHS said the number of clients using CBVI teacher services has declined from 2,836 in 2005 to 2,059 this year. Of that number,

155 are ages birth to 3, and many already get services from the Department of Health and Senior Services. Another 651 are students with multiple disabilities

who get only non-academic services and are also getting services from their school and the Division of Developmental Disabilities. There are 101 students

who only get services in the summer. Of the remaining 1,178 only 125 are being taught Braille at this time, which is a primary role of the instructors

being cut back.


While the students' school districts do contribute toward the cost of the services, the teachers are also funded through federal Individuals with Disabilities

Education Act funds and state budget funds. Services are provided at four different levels depending on the student's needs.


State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, was at a state budget hearing when Griffin testified in March. He said he is concerned about

the cuts, especially since the savings to the state budget is relatively small. He said he will review the cuts more carefully as the DHS budget works

its way through legislative hearings.


"I do worry that we could really hurt a lot of people just to save a little money," he said. "We want to save money, but do it in a way that has the least

personal impact."


Carol Castellano, president of Parents of Blind Children of New Jersey said the teachers must travel to many different schools and it will be a challenge

for them to serve a larger number of students. She said other departments offer non-academic services, but not the instructional services such as teaching

Braille, the special reading method for the blind that uses dots to represent letters.


Griffin said it has been more difficult for her daughter because she did not lose her sight until she was 12, so she has had to learn new ways to read,

write and move around. Morgan's aide has learned Braille so she can transcribe school assignments for her. She leaves class before the bell so she can

move through the halls more easily, and her aide has been giving more independence in getting around. It was easier in middle school, where everyone knew

her, but high school has been a challenge.


"Let me tell you how ignorant some people are," Morgan said as she launches into stories about students who stand right in front of her until she walks

into them, or jump over her cane while she's walking.


"And then they will say to me that I am being rude because I don't say excuse me when I can't see them," she said.


Parents said the commission's services have allowed their children to have a future unlimited by their blindness. Castellano's daughter, who is blind, is

in graduate school, an accomplishment Castellano said would not have happened without commission services. Morgan has a friend at Rowan University who

has shared how the commission helped prepare her for college. But they also say they have seen a gradual reduction in programs over the years. They understand

the state has a budget crisis, but want state officials to understand how crucial the instructional services are to their children.


Cruz said Christopher's CBVI teacher is blind, and just is a wealth of information about how Christopher can take part in activities.


"When he was very young we had him in a special education class," she said. "But he lives in a sighted world. He needs to learn to function in it."


She jokes about all the "talking" items in the house, from the computer to clocks, and how the kung fu helps keep him physically active and coordinated.

Christopher has great hearing, and brags how well he can identify bird calls.


"If you have a question about how to do something, the commission has the answer," Cruz said.


Griffin said she has become a vocal advocate because she has watched how commission services helped Elizabeth regain her life. She was taught at home by

commission teachers after the tumor was removed, and she recovered from a resulting stroke.


"Lizzie was getting Braille three times a week. Then they cut it to twice a week and now it's down to once a week," she said. "Over the last two years,

things have been cut back. Last year she went the entire year without a math book and had to rely on the aide to convert the assignments to Braille. If

you take away these, teachers it takes away these children's ability to learn."


Contact Diane D'Amico:




DDamico at pressofac.com





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