The U.S. Access Board, a little known Federal agency that facilitates access to public buildings, has published guidelines and presented resources to make public spaces, specifically schools, more acoustically sound for students with disabilities. It is easy to overlook the importance of acoustics which center on two key concepts, Signal to Noise Ratio ("SNR") and Reverberation Time. SNR deals with how available sound is to a listener in an environment (classroom) and reverberation rates deal with the amount of sound reverberation that occurs even after a given sound stops. Download AcousticsTR.pdf
The primary culprits that affect SNR ratio and reverberation are the design of the building, sounds coming from heating and ventilation systems (HVAC), computer noises, hallway sounds and sounds from within the classroom. Obvious measures to address these issues are to consider sound quality when the school is being built, but short of that, use of carpeting, scheduling/location of classes to address needs of students who require better SNR, muffling sounds from the HVAC, tennis balls on classroom chairs and FM closed circuit systems to focus sound. FM systems are commonly used with children with hearing loss but I have seen it used very successfully with a large variety of students.
The Access Board noted that sound affects children more than adults because their listening experience is not as well-developed:
"Research indicates that levels of background noise and reverberation little noticed by adults, who are mature and skillful listeners, adversely affect learning environments for young children, who require optimal conditions for hearing and comprehension."
Bad acoustics mostly obviously effects students with hearing loss, cochlear implants, and hearing aides. However, other students with Central Auditory Processing difficulties, learning disabilities, attentional issues and ELL students learn better in classroom where steps have been taken to maximize the acoustics. The American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA) is another important source of information on issues related to classroom acoustics and remedial means of correcting audiological issues.
At your next IEP meeting consider asking for the school's audiologist to attend and consider issues like SNR, reverberation rates and ways to improve overall acoustics. It just might be an important part of getting an appropriate education this coming year.