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January 8, 2004

Hearing devices for students stolen from school

From: San Antonio Express, TX - Jan 8, 2004

By Mary Moreno

San Antonio Express-News

They may have looked like personal radios with headphones to the thieves, but the small, black boxes were 15 deaf students' few links to sound — crucial learning tools for the elementary school students but useless to everyone else.

The "auditory trainers" were among the items lifted by burglars who tore off burglar bars to a Five Palms Elementary portable classroom on the Southwest Side and took $25,000 worth of equipment sometime during the holiday break, Principal Alicia Garcia said.

Also taken were two hearing instruments, worth more than $1,500 each, for children with cochlear implants.

The trainers will cost about $300 each to replace.

"You don't realize how much stuff costs until you have to list it like this," she said, holding a police form with an inventory of missing items.

Most of the items — computers, printers and televisions — will be replaced, but what seems to hurt this school's principal and teachers most is the time and effort required to replace the trainers, which were made to fit the specific needs of each of the 15 students.

The students will be fitted for ear molds and tested by an auditory specialist this week, but the new trainers won't be available for at least two weeks.

"It's certainly not anything you can replace very quickly," Garcia said. "It puts them behind a couple of weeks — hopefully just a couple of weeks — educationally."

Teacher Stacy Brown said the trainers amplify her voice and other sounds for the children, who have different hearing abilities.

"They're relying on residual hearing, which is very low," she said. The equipment "is a crucial part of teaching."

Garcia said that since discovering the burglary Monday morning, she and her staff in the South San Antonio District school have spent most of their time cleaning up the mess left by the burglars, making lists of the stolen items and trying to find replacements.

The burglars spilled milk on the floor, sprayed the two adjoining rooms with fire extinguishers and scattered papers.

© 2004 KENS 5 and the San Antonio Express-News. All rights reserved.