Thursday, March 26, 2009

Budget crunch to close Pennsylvania deaf school

From CBS 21 TV. Pictured are the SSSD 2008 graduates.

The Scranton State School for the Deaf (SSSD) is one of the state schools set to close to help balance the budget.

It's one of 41 state owned and operated deaf schools across the country. Many members of the deaf community are worried the shut down could become a precedent in a very negative way.

SSSD Superintendent, Dr. Monita Hara says, "The eyes of the nation are on this situation because these are children who have special needs."

Children like Radoslava Slavova and her brother, both of whom are deaf. Their parents decided SSSD would be the best school for them, and moved the entire family, all the way from Bulgaria to Scranton. Radoslava says she loves all the different opportunities at this school, "Sports, academic bowl, traveling with theatre, looking at college."

When the community learned the school had been eliminated from next year's state budget, effectively shutting it down in June, an outpouring of support came flooding in. Families realized they're facing tough choices. One option is transferring to the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. It's a tuition free charter school that receives funding from school districts and the state. Districts currently pay about 16 thousand dollars for each student they send to Scranton.

If the student transfers to WPSD, the cost to districts would more than double to 38 thousand dollars.

Radoslava and Caitlyn Newhard say, "WPSD is far. My parents aren't going to let us go there. We don't want to be six hours from home."

But CBS 21 has confirmed WPSD and the Department of education are negotiating the possibility of WPSD taking over the Scranton campus, meaning the students wouldn't have to worry about the extra travel time. WPSD Superintendent Don Rhoten says, "From a parent's perspective and a student's perspective, I'm very confident there will be a school in Scranton next year."

But nothing's been decided yet.If the takeover doesn't happen, students can choose to rejoin public schools. But many at SSSD like Caitlyn Newhard, say it was too hard to learn in public school, even with a translator. She says, "My parents thought, how could i possibly go to college or develop myself as a successful person, if this is how my education will be?"

Districts with deaf students are responsible for hiring an interpreter, generally costing between 50 and 60 thousand dollars for each student, and it's not just money that could be a problem. Dr. Hara says, "The state of Pennsylvania doesn't have enough qualified translators to even begin to fill that need."

Right now, the first issue to figure out, is what will happen to the Scranton campus. Rhoten says, "We're hoping we hear something soon to the effect that you guys should start planning in depth. How soon they'll decide that, I'm not sure."

The superintendent of SSSD says the decision is in the hands of the legislators and the public. But she, and the rest of the staff, are determined to fight for the school.