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House panel votes to ensure inclusion of sign language courses in public schools


By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star


The House Education, Arts, and Culture Committee, chaired by Rep. Deborah Soto Arroyo, on Wednesday unanimously passed House Joint Resolution (HJR) 77, which orders the Secretary of Education to implement the provisions of Act 56-2018 to include sign language courses in the curriculum of schools under the Puerto Rico Department of Education in a final consideration hearing.


Soto Arroyo said that despite the fact that Act 56-2018 was signed during the previous four-year term by then-Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares, and thereby establishes that sign language courses become part of the curriculum, compliance with the statute has not been ensured.


‘’Even with the importance of the enforcement of this statute, it is known that the Department of Education has not fully complied with the implementation of this public policy despite the imperative need to eradicate discrimination and the marginalization of the audio-impaired community in Puerto Rico,” the chairwoman said in a written statement.


By means of a hybrid vote, done through a phone call and in-person process, the joint resolution was approved by the lawmakers with eight votes in favor, none against, and zero abstentions.


According to the HJR 77, the teaching of sign language is deemed “indispensable and urgent” as part of a school’s teaching methods.


“In this way, the State guarantees the bilateral integration of the hearing impaired population in order to provide them with a better quality of life through effective and pragmatic communication,” reads the resolution. “It is necessary to emphasize that without a doubt teaching this discipline at an early age is beneficial so that such teaching can be developed and perfected by our students as it becomes standardized.”


Soto Arroyo said it has been public knowledge that the agency’s teaching staff has shown interest in learning sign language and obtaining certifications since the law was approved in January 2018.


“This proves the great commitment of our teachers to achieve this goal,” she said. “However, apparently there has not been a similar commitment from the Department of Education.”


The Popular Democratic Party lawmaker said the measure also seeks to promote the recruitment of the teachers needed to offer the sign language course, as stated in Article 7 of Law 56-2018, as well as to appoint the specialists who supervise the teaching staff that will offer the course.


Soto Arroyo added that since May 2019, when the law went into effect, the Education Department has done little to enforce the law that would benefit about 554 students with hearing conditions in the public school system. The agency claimed to lack the internal resources needed to do so, she said.

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