State urged to give deaf, blind schools more autonomy
Parents and teachers of deaf and blind students in Utah have a message for the state Board of Education: Keep the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind. But many would like to see more self-governance at the state-run schools.
At a three-hour public hearing on Thursday, 75 supporters of USDB spoke in favor of the services provided both in stand-alone schools and inside mainstream classrooms, such as sign-language interpreters for deaf students.
The hearing was staged by a state task force created by the state Board of Education after it ditched a budget-cutting proposal to close USDB, which would have shifted the responsibility for deaf and blind education to Utah's school districts and charter schools.
The task force, which includes two legislators and four state board members, is looking at the organization of USDB to see if improvements can be made. It plans to report to the state board on Aug. 5.
Many teachers and parents asked that the state board hand over its governing authority of the schools to the USDB Advisory Council or a similar panel of parents, employees and community members.
"The state board has a full plate," said Michelle Tanner, president of the USDB Teacher Association and a member of the advisory council. "Teachers recommend that USDB have [its own] governing board."
Several advocates for blind and visually impaired children asked that the schools be divided into two entities: the School for the Blind and the School for the Deaf.
The two schools were combined in the past as a cost-saving measure, said Ron Gardner, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Utah.
"We believe this experiment has not worked. And we're asking for a separation of these two schools, with ... the decisions to be made by the people who really understand blindness."
But some advocates for deaf-blind children said that separation could compromise services to children with both impairments.
"We absolutely think that we should remain as one school," said Susan Patten, a teacher who is a deaf-blind specialist.