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November 5, 2002

Male workers will be removed from School for the Deaf's girls' dorm

Nov. 5, 2002

By Matt Bach

Flint - Two men assigned to supervise the girls' dormitory at Michigan School for the Deaf will be reassigned after a group of parents expressed outrage.

The two men began work as residential care aides Sunday in the units that house girls ages 7 to 17, prompting an immediate reaction.

"One girl called her mom and asked to take her to the store so she could buy a bathrobe that covers her better," said Rochelle Heyniger, whose daughter, Dana, 7, attends the school. "Come on, she shouldn't have to do that."

On Monday T.J. Bucholz, Michigan Department of Education spokesman, said the men would be reassigned in response to parent concerns.

"These men have done absolutely nothing wrong," Bucholz said. "There were no incidents reported to us at all. But we have concerned parents, and we are absolutely listening to those parents and will make the reassignments because we want to reassure these parents."

Some parents, including Heyniger, had considered pulling their children out of the state's only residential public school until the two men were removed from the housing units.

"These girls take baths with the doors open, they sleep with the doors open, they change their clothes with doors open. It's home for them," Heyniger said.

"Boys are not allowed upstairs and a lot of daddies are banned after night because other girls are there. So why in God's name would they hire a man to take care of children in this manner? It's unacceptable."

The parents were relieved to learn the men were being reassigned.

"I am so glad about that," said Sue Johnson of Canton, whose daughter Ashley Johnson, 15, attends MSD.

Heyniger was pleased with the reassignment but was upset that it happened in the first place.

"It's a typical example of the Michigan School for the Deaf administration not communicating with parents," Heyniger said. "If they had communicated with the parents in the first place, the situation would have never" come up.

The two men were among 10 new residential care aides hired by the school this month. In a previous interview, MSD Principal Cecelia Winkler said the school was losing 10 house parents as part of a retirement incentive package offered to state employees. The retirements were effective Friday.

The school had 42 applications for the 10 positions and all of those hired were quality candidates who had passed extensive background checks, including finger printing and drug tests, Bucholz said.

He said hiring the males in the girls' dormitory is allowed by the state's contract with the MSD employees union. Bucholz said the two men, by their job description, were to have no physical contact with the female students.

"They were to be responsible for the support in the dormitory, such as transportation to and from events, supervision in common areas, mentoring and assisting with homework," Bucholz said.

Heyniger said it would have been impossible for the men to work in the girls' housing units without encountering inappropriate situations.

"If one dorm parent does not show up for a shift, the duties fall on the other two, and that includes if someone needs their hair brushed after a bath - everyone chips in," Heyniger said. "I have nothing against these gentlemen whatsoever, but it's the uncomfortableness of the girls that I'm concerned about."

Matt Bach can be reached at (810) 766-6330 or

© 2002 Flint Journal.