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February 12, 2003

Cuts to deaf program protested

From: Portsmouth Herald, NH - 12 Feb 2003

Lorraine Dubisz, of Manchester, holds a sign outside Portsmouth City Hall on Tuesday evening. A small group of people were protesting possible cuts to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program in the Portsmouth School District.
Staff photo by Carrie Niland

By Elizabeth Kenny

PORTSMOUTH - Although a public hearing was planned on Tuesday night to discuss the Portsmouth school budget, more than 15 people felt that a protest was needed beforehand to make their cause known.

The protesters wanted to educate the School Board on how important they felt the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program was in the schools, a program that could be cut because of lack of funds.

"Some of the most frustrating aspects of all this is the great deal of time we have spent educating people in the education system," said Jon Plodzik, whose 9-year-old daughter, Taylor, is a student in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program.

The City Council in December called on city departments to keep budget requests to a zero increase for the 2003-04 fiscal year, which has created concern regarding many programs and positions. Superintendent Lyonel Tracy estimated in November that a possible 27 positions could be cut or reduced and even whole programs could be at risk.

It is in this climate that educators are looking carefully at the budget for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program.

Susan Wolf-Downes, executive director of Northeast Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Inc., said that, although she understands the need to cut programs, she was just hoping to slow the process down.

"Because, right now, if the program is closed, there is no place for these kids to go," Wolf-Downes said through an interpreter.

The program for deaf and hard of hearing students has been in the Portsmouth schools for 25 years, with 14 interpreters, 14 students and two teachers of the deaf. The only other program of its kind in the state is in Manchester, according to Wolf-Downes.

Wolf-Downes said she was hoping that by slowing the process down, there would be enough time for the state to set up a regional school for the deaf, which is how most other states provide such services.

"I’m here to testify that there need to be options open," said Linda Taylor, an educational consultant to teams that serve students who are deaf or hard of hearing. "Right now it’s only Manchester, Portsmouth or isolation for these kids. If Portsmouth closes, the only option (for students in this area) is isolation."

Plodzik, whose daughter is in the Portsmouth program, said a way to understand what it’s like for children to be placed in a school without other children who are deaf would be like having a Spanish-speaking child and an English-speaking child sitting next to each other and being expected to communicate.

"If you take away the ability to communicate, you are setting the child up for failure," he said. "It’s just a real disservice to the child."

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