Thursday, January 28, 2010

South Dakota Senate kills bill that would have closed state's school for the deaf

From The Rapid City Journal in S.D.:

The Senate education committee has killed a bill aimed at changing the South Dakota Constitution to allow the state to close the School for the Deaf.

Gov. Mike Rounds tried to close the campus last year and shift funding to outreach programs that educate deaf and hearing-impaired students in school districts around the state. The move would have saved an estimated $1.2 million a year.

But the parents of eight deaf or hearing-impaired children from South Dakota and Minnesota filed a federal class-action lawsuit in July saying South Dakota's constitution obligates it to make available a public school for the deaf.

Bill sponsor Sen. Al Novstrup, R-Aberdeen, asked the committee to kill the measure on Thursday, saying parents of deaf students, lawmakers and educators have come up with a plan that makes the change unnecessary. They offered no details.

Bobbie Beth Scoggins, president of the National Association of the Deaf, said deaf and hearing-impaired students throughout the state's school districts have not been getting the support services they need, but the parties are vowing to work together to change that.

"We want to fix the system that's broke," Scoggins said. "We do feel confident that we can come to consensus and do that."

The School for the Deaf, which opened in 1880, had an on-campus enrollment topping 130 in the 1970s, but the number of students on the 14-acre campus dropped to a half dozen this school year. The school is governed by the state Board of Regents.

After Rounds' proposal to close the campus, federal stimulus money allowed the Legislature to restore funding to operate it for another year while the parties worked out a plan.

Sen. Sandy Jerstad, D-Sioux Falls, said she's glad a solution was reached.

"Changing our constitution is a kind of a tricky and can be lengthy matter," she said. "And we really felt that this wasn't the appropriate vehicle to use at this point."