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November 22, 2002

Deaf school trustee calls new memo revealing

From: Oregonian, OR
Nov. 22, 2002


VANCOUVER -- At least one Washington School for the Deaf trustee said he wasn't aware of some serious incidents at the school until he read a memo that questioned the school's ability to provide students with a safe environment.

The school's nine-member board of trustees is expected to discuss the memo for the first time when it meets in Vancouver today.

The Nov. 6 memo from the safety monitoring panel went to Gov. Gary Locke, who oversees the residential school that has about 102 students enrolled.

Among areas of concern listed in the memo: whether school staff understands how to respond appropriately to students who may be victims of sexual abuse.

Trustee Bruce Romanish, who also is associate dean at Washington State University Vancouver, said he did not know about some of the serious incidents until he read the memo.

No other trustee could be reached for comment Thursday. School Superintendent Leonard E. Aron was in Spokane for a conference Thursday and also could not be reached for comment.

Among other things, the memo reported an anecdote about a girl student who claimed a boy student sexually assaulted her two years ago. The memo questioned the methods of the school administration, which reportedly set up a meeting between the students against the wishes of the girl's guardian who wanted to be present. The girl ended up leaving the school while the boy returned.

Romanish said he'd like to explore these issues further with the school administration.

"My hunch is that there is probably another side to that story," Romanish said. "But I won't know that until tomorrow."

Judge Diane M. Woolard of the Clark County Superior Court who chaired the safety panel, is expected to brief the trustees today during their meeting.

Athough the memo was critical of the school, Woolard said it doesn't ignore the successes the administration has made in the past year.

"They have made a great turnaround," Woolard said. "They are headed in the right directions but we still have some concerns."

The memo came nearly a year after safety improvements Locke ordered in June 2001 were to be in place.

With the report's release, the safety panel appointed by Locke has completed its job and is not expected to continue surveying the school, although its members will be available for consultation, Woolard said.

Michael Marchand, deputy communications director in the governor's office, said Locke has no plans to take additional steps to police or advise the school. It is up to the trustees to recognize any needed changes and implement them, he said.

"The school's board of trustees needs to assume a strong role in implementing the necessary safety standards," Marchand said.

The trustees' meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. in the school's Administrative Conference Room, 611 Grand Blvd.

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