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Better Special Education Policies to Support ASL Students


Thanks in part to DRAZ’s advocacy efforts, one of the largest school districts in Arizona, the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD), has changed its special education policies to better support students whose primary language is American Sign Language (ASL).

In October 2023, TUSD amended its Exceptional Education policy IHB-R. Below is a simplified explanation of the changes, but we encourage TUSD students and their families to review the exact language of the updated policy on pages 13 and 29-30 of the linked PDF above.


TUSD students whose primary language is ASL now have the right to be evaluated for IEPs and 504 plans in ASL. The evaluation can be conducted by a school psychologist who is fluent in ASL, or by a psychologist who does not know ASL but is accompanied by both an ASL interpreter and a Certified Deaf Interpreter to interpret. Importantly, the student and their parents are the ones who decide if the student’s primary language is ASL, not the District or IEP team. 

This is important because all special education evaluations should be conducted in a language and format that will provide accurate results. When students who use ASL are evaluated verbally or in written language only, the results may not reflect the student’s abilities and deficits, which in turn impacts their eligibility for IEPs/504 plans and the services they receive. This new policy means that TUSD students whose primary language is ASL will have more accurate evaluation results that can lead to more appropriate eligibility findings, placements, supports and services.

Educational Interpreter

If a student’s primary language is ASL, and their IEP team decides they need an ASL interpreter or an aide at school, the aide or interpreter that TUSD provides for that student must be an “educational interpreter.” An “educational interpreter” is someone with qualifications laid out in Arizona state regulations. For example, educational interpreters must show proficiency in interpreting either by passing the Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment or being certified by an entity like the National Association of the Deaf, among other requirements.

Although the new policy includes some circumstances when TUSD can utilize someone who is not an educational interpreter for a student whose primary language is ASL, even in those situations, the district will have to prove the person serving as an aide is proficient in ASL by other means laid out in the policy.

This change is important because it means students whose primary language is ASL should always have access to effective communication at school. It should prevent miscommunications between students and the staff working most closely with them, and protect students who are still learning ASL from being paired with someone who might inadvertently teach or reinforce incorrect signs because they are not proficient in ASL themselves.  

As a result of the amended policy above, students whose primary language is ASL will benefit from improved special education evaluations and increased accuracy of evaluation data. Additionally, those students whose primary language is ASL who need an aide or interpreter at school will be provided that assistance from someone who meets the state definition of educational interpreter, improving students’ access to effective communication and learning in school.

DRAZ is proud to have contributed to this policy change and looks forward to the positive impact on students who are Deaf, deaf, hard of hearing, or have other disabilities in TUSD.

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