IM this article to a friend!

September 1, 2003

Plans for consolidating disabled children's education taking shape

From: Hampton Roads Daily Press, VA - Sep 1, 2003

By the Associated Press

Published September 1, 2003

STAUNTON, Va. -- A task force studying how to consolidate services at Virginia's two schools for deaf, blind and other disabled children has selected three options for debate.

They are: closing one school and consolidating programs at the other, closing both schools and building a single, new facility or keeping both open, but with revised programs.

The task force met at one of the two schools, located in Staunton, last Wednesday to collect public comments on the issue. The panel is scheduled to visit the second school, located in Hampton, Oct. 2.

Task force members said they have not reached a consensus about how to move forward with the consolidation. Therefore, specific details haven't been sorted out, such as which school is likely to remain open if the task force suggests closing one. The task force defines consensus as an agreement among nine of its 12 members.

The task force culled its current three recommendations from a list of seven. That whittling process came after they conducted nine focus groups in July. The discarded options included shifting responsibility to public schools and closing high school programs at both the Staunton and Hampton schools.

"We have to come up with a workable recommendation that is politically doable, and this group has shown that they can do that," said state Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta and a member of the task force. The task force includes lawmakers, the superintendents of both schools, parents and other state officials.

Nearly two dozen students, alumni, teachers and parents visited the task force to voice support for the Staunton school during last week's visit, despite the lack of specific information so far about the consolidation.

"If you want one school, make it here in Staunton," said Race Drake, a graduate of the facility's blind program.

Task force member Ron Lanier said such public input would be a major factor in future consolidation decisions. He directs Virginia's Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

"I hear people's concerns not only at these meetings, but on the job, too, so it's not difficult to keep those comments at the forefront," he said.

The task force is scheduled to make its final recommendations Dec. 1. Virginia's General Assembly will then consider them when it reconvenes in January.

Copyright © 2003, Daily Press