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December 15, 2003

Task force looking at future of School for the Deaf

From: Sioux City Journal, IA - Dec 15, 2003

DEVILS LAKE, N.D. (AP) -- A task force is looking at the future of the North Dakota School for the Deaf, in the wake of declining enrollments.

Student numbers have dwindled to 28 in grades preschool through 12, and officials expect the population to continue to drop. However, Superintendent Rocky Cofer said the numbers do not accurately reflect how many people the school serves.

"NDSD isn't just the 28 students that go to school here," he said. "We served over 1,000 people during the biennium with our outreach programs."

A 30-member task force composed of community and state officials and school staff met for the first time earlier this month and plans to meet again in late January. It is reviewing a study on the school's programs and services commissioned last year by the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction.

The study presents three alternatives for the school:

--Continue with current operations, with a focus on increasing enrollment;

--Collaborate more with other governmental entities in the region to reduce costs;

--Focus more on outreach services, with fewer on-campus programs.

"We've been talking a while now about expanding our outreach, particularly in the area of adult services and providing direction for students in mainstream (public school) programs," Cofer said.

He said it is important that the campus remain open, but that it faces a difficult future as the number of children statewide declines and more focus is placed on educating all children in public school settings.

"One of the hardest things we have to do is try and convince parents NDSD provides the least restrictive environment to educate their children," Cofer said. "Sure, it's important for a child to be with their family. But in a community where the only people a kid can communicate with are his family, well, that's restrictive."

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