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January 24, 2003

Resigning deaf school chief touts record

From: Oregonian, OR - 24 Jan 2003


VANCOUVER -- Leonard E. Aron leaves his post as superintendent of the Washington School for the Deaf with a clear conscience and pride in his 41/2-year tenure.

Speaking two days after he orally submitted his resignation to Gov. Gary Locke, Aron defended his record as head of the residential school.

He pointed to a list of accomplishments that ranged from overhauling technology to record-keeping reorganizations and raising standards for student academic performance.

"I took the organization from one level to the next, and I'm proud of it," Aron said Thursday. "I have made this a better place. I am guilt-free."

Aron and the school have been under fire since August 1999, when parents first publicly aired concerns about sexual and physical abuse and assault on campus and the administration's response to their complaints.

The concerns launched what became a series of investigations, reports and studies done at the school on Grand Boulevard. Ten lawsuits and one tort claim have been filed against the state in recent years alleging sexual and physical misconduct on campus.

Enrollment dropped from 120 students in 2001 to 102 students this year.

Since 1999, even critics have acknowledged some progress, however. Some changes were made at the direction of Locke, who oversees the school, hires and fires the superintendent and appoints its trustees. Other changes were made at the suggestion of a communitywide panel and several studies.

Still, the school may not be capable of providing a safe environment for students, concluded a November report by a statewide safety monitoring panel Locke appointed to oversee the changes he ordered.

That report prompted closed-door sessions at a Jan. 10 meeting of the nine-member board and a vote of no confidence in Aron.

Pat Clothier, board chairwoman, then sent Locke a letter recommending that Aron be relieved of his position and an interim superintendent be appointed.

Trustees told Aron of their conclusion, and he pondered his next step for several days, he said.

Aron decided to resign as of Feb. 15 after learning that Locke "has been consistent" in following the recommendations of his appointed boards, Aron said Thursday.

He said he was hired when the school had one board and has "stayed the course" in fulfilling his initial charge. "I haven't veered," Aron said.

Now there is a new board, and it is trustees' prerogative to change direction, he said.

Aron said he bears no ill will toward the school or trustees, but remains concerned and dedicated to the school.

"You come to a point where you go in two separate directions," Aron said.

But, he said, widespread attention to the charges of abuse and working with the monitoring panel were difficult. He said his response to the panel's report was: "We heard your concerns, and we have a different way of looking at it."

Others also wanted Aron replaced. Abused Deaf Women's Advocacy Services in Seattle called for his resignation late last year.

"We should look at this as a new beginning for the school," Marilyn Smith, executive director, said this week of Aron's departure.

His replacement should be experienced in dealing with sexual abuse, Smith said.

One of the first jobs for the new superintendent will be deciding whether further staff changes are needed, said state Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-Lake Forest Park.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Holley Gilbert: 360-896-5721; 503-294-5900;

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