Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Utah considers closing Schools for the Deaf and the Blind

From The Deseret News:

SALT LAKE CITY — Talks about where to cut if a worst-case budget scenario plays out this year are enough to make longtime educators nervous — particularly Superintendent Steven Noyce with the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind.

The Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee is looking closely at $91 million worth of programs it could cut should there be even less revenue this year than anticipated. That's in addition to the $166 million the committee already cut to satisfy the request of GOP leaders on the Executive Appropriations Committee.

"We're going to cut some of these things, so you need to tell us in what rank of importance do you see (these programs)" Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, said to State Superintendent Larry Shumway.

The State Board of Education approved a list of programs that could be cut if needed last week, and on the figurative chopping block was $20 million in funding for USDB. The board was emphatic that it doesn't want to see education cut in any way and was only making the recommendation to assist the committee.

"I think it goes without saying that I was a bit shocked last Friday," Noyce said of hearing about the proposed cut. It was the first state board meeting he had missed in 18 months, as he didn't see anything applicable to USDB on the agenda.

Board member David Thomas said the board is committed to ensuring children currently served by the school continue to be taken care of. The board just believes that in a worst-case scenario, districts could take on the responsibility of teaching children with sensory disability, since about 80 percent of those associated with USDB are currently taught at their local schools.

Noyce countered that most of the students who have been "mainstreamed" into their neighborhood schools are being served "within their districts, not by their districts." He said the early intervention services USDB provides from infancy to preschool is largely what makes it possible for them to be taught in their districts. He said districts can't replicate that.

Heather Frost's son, Gavin, is a 4-year-old enrolled in an USDB oral preschool program in Holladay. Gavin was born deaf and received cochlear implants as a toddler. Since that surgery didn't take place until after he was a year old, his language skills were delayed, and he needed the intensive services provided by USDB.

He's been going to preschool for seven hours a day for two years, where specially-trained teachers give the students "overloaded language" to help them catch up Frost said.

"It's like we're narrating our lives," Frost said. "I'm explaining what I'm doing, why I'm doing it and how I feel about it."

Several lawmakers expressed appreciation for Noyce and his program.

Karen Morgan, D-Salt Lake City, said there are lots of students whose parents prefer for them to be taught at the centralized USDB schools, and those services are critical.

"I really hope that as a committee, we fully understand the services that are being provided to these children that never go into the districts," she said.

Noyce said he doesn't think the schools will actually be closed this year, but the fact the state board and Legislature is even considering that option is concerning to him. He said he feels like he hasn't effectively communicated to the state board the work the school does, or they wouldn't have made the recommendation.

"I feel like I've failed," he said. "I've got to do a massive education program."