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January 8, 2003

Safety at school for deaf spurs meeting

From: Oregonian, OR - 08 Jan 2003


VANCOUVER -- Prompted by concerns that the Washington School for the Deaf is moving too slowly to keep all students safe, several legislators are scheduled to meet with school trustees Friday.

"We're a little concerned that things aren't moving at the speed we expected," said Sen. Joseph Zarelli, R-Ridgefield.

The legislators initiated the meeting after a memorandum by a statewide oversight panel appointed by Gov. Gary Locke questioned whether the school's staff understands how to respond to students who might be victims of sexual abuse.

Locke oversees the residential school on Grand Boulevard.

The meeting, included in the nine-member board's regular monthly gathering, is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Friday. Along with Zarelli and Dickerson, Rep. Bill Fromhold, D-Vancouver, and Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-Lake Forest Park, are expected to attend.

Kagi is the chairwoman of the Children and Family Services Committee in the House.

The meeting is the latest in a series of investigations, reports and studies done at the residential school since August 1999, when parents first publicly aired allegations of sexual misconduct on campus during a meeting sponsored by Zarelli.

After the safety panel's report in November, the board created a subcommittee to monitor the school, keep in contact with school Superintendent Leonard E. Aron and send regular reports to the board.

"The board is taking some steps to get more information from the perspective of the school about some of the things that were identified in the report," said board member Bruce Romanish. "Based on those findings, the board will be in a better position to know what steps to take next."

Zarelli said he has been glad to see some change, but more is needed. "It's a leadership issue," he said. "It's about focus and always has been."

Additional changes should be made in accord with decisions and recommendations from the board, he said.

Lawmakers would take the results of Friday's meeting to the governor's office for discussion, Zarelli said. Jason Begay: 360-896-5719 or 503-294-5900;

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