Eric Dillner wants to feel safe in school, but that’s not entirely the case right now.
He fears there might come a day when an intruder enters the school, but he won’t hear the message of a code yellow or a code red over the intercom because of his hearing loss.
And if he’s in the corridor or in the bathroom, he might find himself locked out of his classroom, stranded in the hallway and completely in the dark about the emergency.
“I don’t want this to happen to me,” said Eric, a student at Daniel Hand High School in Madison, in a recent interview. “I want to be safe. I want to know I’m safe.”
For that reason, Dillner and his mother, Susan Yankee, testified in March at a hearing held by the legislature’s education committee in favor of a special education bill — House Bill 7353 — that includes a requirement for school districts to have an “emergency communication plan” in place to alert students identified as deaf or hard of hearing about an emergency situation and ensure that a student’s needs are met.
The bill, which was approved unanimously late Wednesday by the House of Representatives, also requires various state agencies to consider those emergency plans in the guidance they provide to school districts about school emergency procedures and construction projects. The bill now heads to the Senate.
“I think parents just assume their child has an emergency plan that addresses the fact that they can’t hear,” said Yankee, who is part of the state’s Advisory Board for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons, which recommended the legislative proposal. But that’s not always the case, she said.
“With the Colorado shooting the other day being the 35th school shooting since the fall,” Yankee wrote in a recent email, “it is unconscionable that our most vulnerable do not have a safety plan during school emergencies that addresses their hearing loss. We can’t go another school year without protecting these students.”
While testifying before lawmakers in March, Yankee asked, “How can I send my son to school every day knowing that he might not hear an emergency announcement of an officer telling him to stand down?”
Eric, who is 15, wears a hearing aid in one ear, but even so, he has trouble hearing announcements over the school intercom and teachers speaking quietly, or determining which direction sounds are coming from.
“I was in elementary school when the Sandy Hook shooting happened,” Eric told legislators at the hearing, “and I can’t believe that for the past seven years I have not had an emergency plan in place that considers my lack of hearing.”