MN Department of Education Update

MN Department of Education Update

By Kristin Oien

(Editor’s Note: Convention attendees were glad to receive the following information regarding MDE services and programs that support the education of blind youth in our state.)

Hello Minnesota Federationists,

Thank you for the opportunity to share a Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) update at your 96th Annual NFB of Minnesota Convention. My name is Kristin Oien, and I am the specialist for the blind & visually impaired (BVI) at MDE. My responsibilities at MDE include providing support, training, and technical assistance to teachers of the visually impaired, orientation and mobility (O&M) specialists, and other stakeholders providing service to students with disabilities and their families. Much has happened during the last school year, and I’d like to share a few highlights with you.

The BVI Advisory Committee worked hard to prepare a BVI Legislative Report which can be found on the MDE website. This report contains data-based results and evidence-based best practices for improving the education outcomes of children who are blind or visually impaired in the state of Minnesota. It highlights the need for more qualified teachers, accessible educational material (AEM), and specialized instruction to meet individualized student needs. The recommendations include the need for a Minnesota Institute of Higher Education (IHE) offering a

BVI licensure and Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Certification program, implementing Universal Design for Learning (UDL), and providing instruction in the expanded core curriculum (ECC).

Regarding AEM, Minnesota is one of eight states participating in a national collaborative addressing students’ need for accessible educational materials and AEM best practices. The National Center on Accessible Educational Materials for Learning chose Minnesota to collect data and develop strategies to move provision of AEM forward for all students in MN and in the other seven states participating in the collaborative. MDE continues to support districts with the provision of braille and audio material through the interagency agreement with the State Services for the Blind Communication Center; which includes involvement in the development of a statewide plan for 3D printed educational material production and distribution.

In August of 2015, MDE hosted a Minnesota Mentoring workshop for 12 new teams involving 7 mentors and 12 protégés. Last month, the Minnesota Mentoring Project welcomed 15 new BVI teams with 8 mentors and 15 protégés. The teams will be communicating during the year to provide supports focusing on targeted areas of the ECC which may include specific skills in: Assistive Technology, Career Education, Compensatory/Access Skills, Independent Living, Orientation & Mobility, Recreation & Leisure, Self-Determination, Sensory Efficiency and Social Interaction. The MN Low Incidence Projects is also expanding the BVI Coaching Program to provide support to teachers throughout the state who are currently enrolled in BVI and O&M higher education programs. This program provides monthly face to face learning opportunities to assist graduate students with hands-on application of what they are learning in their coursework, as well as MN specific processes specifically related to educating students who are BVI.

We have 12 planned professional development opportunities this school year which include Statewide Vision Meetings, Participation in White Cane Day at MSAB, Low Vision Clinics, BVI Advisory Meetings, and Charting the Cs Cross Categorical Conference. I’m looking forward to NFB’s participation in these opportunities and appreciate all you have done to support Minnesotan’s who happen to be blind.

My overall goal continues to be that children and youth in Minnesota who are blind and visually impaired receive quality instruction and supports that will lead to their highest level of independence and success. Please know that I welcome suggestions for effective change. Feel free to contact me with concerns or ideas for the future. My email address is and my phone number is 651-582-8843.