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January 14, 2003

City schools urged to save deaf program

From: Portsmouth Herald, NH - 14 Jan 2003

By Shir Haberman

CONCORD - Advocates for the deaf and hard of hearing came together in the state capital Monday to push for retaining the program for children with those disabilities that currently exists in the Portsmouth School District.

The Portsmouth School Board and Superintendent Lyonel Tracy have already indicated their desire to phase out the 25-year-old program.

"We would like to recognize the Portsmouth school system for the work it has been doing," said Susan Wolf-Downes, executive director of Northeast Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services. "The program deserves the help of the Legislature."

Wolf-Downes urged the Portsmouth School Board to hold off making a decision on whether to phase out the program until a legislative committee has finished its review of this issue.

Sen. Andre Martel, R-Manchester, chairman of the Public Institutions, Health and Human Services Committee, heads up a commission established by the Legislature in 2000 to study the education of the deaf and hard of hearing in the state. He said he will introduce legislation this session to extend the work of the commission.

"New Hampshire has very minor sorts of education for the deaf," Martel said.

Wolf-Downes urged the Legislature to act on the five recommendations specified in a report prepared by the Bureau of Special Education of the state Department of Education. The report resulted from a series of public forums held last year.

Those recommendations are:

* to establish regional programs such as the one Portsmouth currently provides;

* that the Portsmouth school system continue to provide programs for the deaf and hard-of-hearing students of the Seacoast area;

* to have the Department of Education and its Bureau of Special Education provide support for the Portsmouth program;

* that the Legislature continue the Commission on the Education of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing; and

* that the Legislature, working with the Department of Education and Bureau of Special Education, establish a working group, consisting of parents, deaf and hard-of-hearing community members and educational professionals, to assist it in coming up with a plan to establish additional comprehensive regional programs for the deaf and hard of hearing.

"Today, we have come together with a great sense of urgency on behalf of New Hampshire’s children who are deaf or hard of hearing and are in danger of being left behind," Wolf-Downes said. "We ask that action be initiated on these recommendations immediately."

According to a press release issued jointly by Northeast Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services, the New Hampshire Association of the Deaf and the Gallaudet University Regional Center at Northern Essex Community College, approximately 350 to 400 children who are deaf or hard of hearing live in New Hampshire. According to Kathy Vesey of Gallaudet, 90 percent of them were born to hearing parents.

"These children have unique needs parents and school districts have no ability to meet," she said. "They often feel isolated and lonely for lack of peers, and may miss an enormous amount of world knowledge usually gleaned by hearing children from social conversation."

Portsmouth is considering phasing out its program because of the budget problems faced by both it and those districts that pay tuition to send their students to city schools.

Currently 14 students are enrolled in the Portsmouth program, which runs from elementary through high school. Only one of those students, who has Down syndrome along with a hearing disorder, is from Portsmouth, said Tracy Plodzik, a Dover parent whose 9-year-old daughter attends the Portsmouth program.

Portsmouth Superintendent Tracy told The Associated Press that no new students have signed up for the program over the past two years, and that the plan is to have students already enrolled in the program complete it and to phase out the portions that are currently without students.

Plodzik said the reason no new students have signed up is that two years ago the pre-school and kindergarten portions of the program were phased out, ending the system that fed into the later grades.

"I disagree with the (Portsmouth) superintendent’s philosophy," said John Plodzik, Tracy’s husband. "He doesn’t have a grasp of the needs of deaf kids."

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