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December 10, 2002

Parents of deaf child want board to hear, see their view

From: Portsmouth Herald, NH - 10 Dec 2002

By Sara Newbury

PORTSMOUTH - Recently, school administrators said the Portsmouth program for deaf and hard-of-hearing students is likely to be eliminated at the elementary level, and the School Board is set to hear from parents who depend on those services.

The School Board will meet tonight at 7 p.m. in the council chambers of City Hall.

Tracie and Jon Plodzik of Dover are parents and strong advocates for the program. They enrolled their daughter, Taylor, in the deaf program at Little Harbour School a year and a half ago. Taylor is now in third grade. The Plodziks said they were devastated to find out that Portsmouth’s 25-year-old program is in jeopardy.

"The thought process of eliminating the program is due, in large part, to the fact that the current students in the program reside out of district - they reside out of Portsmouth," Jon Plodzik said.

"We’re hoping (the School Board) has a sensitive ear and that they really see the value of this program because we are not Portsmouth residents, but we are part of the Portsmouth community through our daughter. When Portsmouth took her in a year and a half ago, they accepted us into the Portsmouth, Little Harbour community."

Traditionally, the program has attracted deaf and hard-of-hearing students from other districts to create a network of peers. The Plodziks said they don’t want Taylor to be sent back to her own district, where they worry she would be isolated.

The Plodziks plan to present their concerns to the Portsmouth School Board tonight. They said they hope anyone who sees the value of the program will be at the meeting.

"We want to help the board maintain this program and help the superintendent continue the rich tradition of this program - help him meet the needs of finances, time and resources to do it," Jon Plodzik said. "We believe in it. We see it every day in Taylor."

The Plodziks have contacted the state Department of Education to ask for additional funding for the program, and they have talked with other parents who have deaf children. Last week, the Plodziks met with Superintendent Lyonel Tracy.

"His educational philosophy is that children with special needs should be serviced in their own districts, growing up with their neighboring peers, which is very true in so many situations," Tracie Plodzik said. "But it’s not true with deaf and hearing-impaired children. Their least restrictive environment is to be placed with other deaf and hearing-impaired children."

Jon Plodzik said, though he and Tracy have different philosophies, he wants to work with the board to expand the program instead of eliminate it.

"We want to be real-life marchers in the band to say this is why the program is important," he said. "We want to give the board a sense of the (deaf) community that exists in Portsmouth."

Kent LaPage, chair of the School Board, said discussion about the deaf program is in its preliminary stages, and the board has not formally addressed it yet.

"We always listen to any parents that come forth to us," LaPage said. "But we’re still gathering information. ... There’s always emotion. These are children, but programs are not based solely on emotion, but on the best position for the child."

The Plodziks plan to tell the board other districts will not have the resources to develop a program like the one Portsmouth has been building for 25 years -a program with a total-communication approach, including sign language as well as oral communication.

"The staff there have sign-language skills, and the students have essentially been learning sign language since kindergarten," Jon Plodzik said. "The culture there is extremely important to us and extremely important to the success of Taylor. We know from our discussions with the other parents in the deaf program that they feel very similarly to us. ... We are trying to become very strong advocates to assist Portsmouth in becoming a regional facility."

The Plodziks said they have done a lot of research and they feel strongly Portsmouth is the right place for their daughter. They hope the program will at least continue to serve the students currently enrolled in it.

Tracie Plodzik said, "Unfortunately, we live in New Hampshire where there is not a state-funded deaf school or a deaf program. So that gives parents like us no choices, and Taylor no alternatives, other than this, an established deaf program."

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