Questions to Ask A School for the Blind Before Enrolling Your Child

Regarding academics:

1. How do the school’s students do on state examinations? (Note that, on the whole, blind students outperform students in state examinations – but they do not outperform their non-disabled peers. HOWEVER, please note that you don’t want to rely too much on these scores – because you probably don’t want a school that “teaches to the test” all year.)

2.  Do the students learn what their regular education peers do? (The curriculum at a school for the blind should be more robust, not less, than a regular school. It should involve accessible art classes, Music Braille instruction, accessible physical education activities and recreational activities. Like regular education students, students at schools for the blind should have contact with people in the community, but they should also have the opportunity to meet, communicate with, and be mentored by successful, independent blind adults. As a teacher of blind students, I try to provide this for my students in regular schools – a school for the blind should do no less.)

3. What is the highest level of mathematics taught at the school, and how often is it taught? (Most high schools in this nation teach at least one class of calculus every year. When schools do not do so, it typically indicates (a) that they are too small to provide a

4. What science classes are taught in high school? (Again, high level classes indicate high quality instruction and good preparation in the lower grades. High schools should offer Biology, Chemistry, and Physics – every year. Additionally, question if the high school students take AP, IB, and/or CLEP examinations. These are tests that can allow a high school student to earn college credit. If the high school is not geared toward college preparation, it is likely not providing high quality instruction.)

5. If the school sends high-achieving students to local regular schools for classes, ask why. If the student ends up in the regular school anyway, why start at the school for the blind?

    (a) Will the student be prepared for the regular school academically? (Remember, his/her classmates will have been taught by teachers who are actively preparing students for higher level classes. Is the school for the blind doing so? Is it even able to do so?)

    (b) Will the student receive the accommodations to which s/he became used at the school for the blind? Are the regular education teachers familiar enough with blindness to verbalize and make other needed accommodations? Will you or your student know to ask for the regular education teachers to receive this type of training if the student has spent tears at the school for the blind without having to self-advocate?

    (c) Will your child be socially equipped to enter a regular education school with its class changes, lockers, social strata, etc.? Will your child feel like a “special student” – and not fit in at the regular school after having been at the school for the blind so long? (In my experience, non-disabled peers tend to accept individual differences much more easily in their younger years. Additionally, blind students tend to accept non-visual skills and tools much better when they are introduced early on. Growing up with one another is a great way for students to understand each others’ strengths and needs. Inserting a blind child into a regular school for a short portion of the day does not tend to foster meaningful relationships.)

Regarding blindness skills:

1. How many children use canes for independent mobility, and how much? (In my experience, many children use human guide, squaring off, and trailing a great deal – and in many cases, canes are hung up at the door of the classroom and the cafeteria, and children have no independent mobility at that point.)

2. How many children read braille? (Frankly, if an academically-oriented child “does not need braille,” I’m not certain why that child should be ion a school for the blind. If the child has intellectual disability such that academic literacy is not possible, it still makes more sense for a school for the blind student to use tactile marking systems.)

3. Are students age-appropriate in daily living skills? (The social aspect of attending a school where there are many other blind children is, indeed, important. In fact, this is an environment where blindness should not be an excuse/reason to refrain from engaging in most any activity. Blind children must learn age-appropriate independent living skills if they are to achieve independence in post-secondary education and post-secondary employment. If a school for the blind is not taking advantage of its unique opportunity to teach these skills in peer groups, I would be very concerned about what other opportunities and skills they are letting slip by.)