SIOUX FALLS - South Dakota's new advisory panel on deaf and hard of hearing children began work Friday.
The committee is setting milestones parents can use in helping youngsters get ready for kindergarten.
Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard, whose parents were deaf, signed into law the legislation from Rep. Dan Ahlers, D-Dell Rapids. HB 1155 calls for a resource for parents to monitor and track language development by children from birth to age five.
The state Department of Education has individual education plans for 85 children with hearing loss and 54 with deafness, according to Linda Turner, director of special education.
Turner said students who also have other disabilities are in other categories. The state department uses federal categories.
Marje Kaiser, superintendent of the South Dakota School for the Deaf in Sioux Falls, said the institution has a caseload of about 530 students. They tend to be in their local school districts.
Kim Wadsworth, the deaf school's outreach coordinator, said 11 consultants are spread throughout South Dakota to provide services to deaf children.
"We get referrals from all areas," Wadsworth said. "The family decides if they want to have support or services from SDSD."
The advisory committee chose Teresa Nold of Sioux Falls as its chairwoman. She is vice president for the South Dakota Association for the Deaf.
Nold said the state department must report annually to the Legislature. "Of course we are envisioning we will work together," Nold said through an interpreter.
The legislation's sponsors felt the department's general milestones for students with disabilities didn't go deep enough, Turner said.
"There was nothing specific," Nold said about deaf and hard of hearing students.
"We don't have any groups specifically for any one disability," Turner said. "We have one advisory group for students with all disabilities."
The department's advisory group hasn't had any representatives of deaf or hard of hearing students for several years. The 20-member group might have two or three representatives of deaf and hard of hearing as the governor names new appointees, Turner said.
"A big piece of this is we want parents to have power," Nold said.