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March 21, 2003

Deaf community votes 'no confidence' over Austine governing body

From: Brattleboro Reformer, VT - Mar 21, 2003

Reformer Staff

BRATTLEBORO -- Representatives for the deaf community in Brattleboro delivered a no-confidence vote to the board of the Vermont Center for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing Friday afternoon, contending that they have been locked out of the search process for a new president and requesting that the board be composed of a deaf majority.

VCDHH is an umbrella organization that has served as the governing agency of the Austine School for the Deaf since 1997. The current president of VCDHH, Patrick Schrader, resigned in January.

"I came today because most of us didn't know anything about the search process to pick a new president," said Michele Miller-Rausch, a middle and high school teacher at Austine.

"We know," said Stephanie Jo Kent, a former interpreter for Austine, "that deaf culture is a collective culture. Deaf people work to build consensus."

She noted that the search process, underway since February, has already been tainted by its private functioning.

"Even if the plan you set up involves deaf people, it's already been undermined," she said.

Treating the issue of representation on the board were Ryland White, a graduate faculty member at S.I.T., and Rene Pellerin, who acts as chairman of both the Vermont Association of the Deaf and Austine Alumni Association.

White said a board with a majority of deaf community members would enjoy a number of benefits, such as creating a better knowledge of the community's history and culture and assessing students' skill levels more accurately.

Pellerin emphasized that with the creation of VCDHH, which includes facilities across the state, the issues of representation and involvement become especially important.

"The search committee must involve the deaf community," he said. "We're talking about the Vermont center, which is all over the state. It's not just Brattleboro anymore."

Daniel Allen, chairman of the board, described a host of committees involved in the search process that included deaf people. He also touched on the issue of representation.

"If I had my way, I'd want to have 90 percent deaf people on the board," he said.

Dom Bonura, a deaf community member of the board, noted that Allen had little time to assemble a search committee and commended his performance. He also said the board would consider and discuss the suggestions presented Friday afternoon.

The board currently has four deaf members out of a total of 15.

Also speaking at the meeting were two parents who noted tension between hearing relatives of Austine students and the deaf community.

"We have certain beliefs, and we know the culture has certain beliefs," said one parent. "There are times when my son's caught in the middle of that, and I don't like that feeling."

© 2003 Brattleboro Reformer