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October 7, 2004

Schools for blind, deaf get support

From: Louisville Courier Journal, KY - Oct 7, 2004

Closings feared as focus changes

By Nancy C. Rodriguez
The Courier-Journal

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Citing fears that changes being made at Kentucky's historic schools for the deaf and blind will lead to their eventual demise, advocates pledged yesterday to take their concerns to the General Assembly.

"We will continue this fight, whatever it takes," said Cathy Jackson, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Kentucky.

Jackson was one of about 50 supporters — including parents and alumni — who rallied at Capital Tower Plaza yesterday during a state Board of Education meeting.

Protest organizers said they are still working out their plans, and wouldn't say what they want lawmakers to do for them.

The board approved a plan in August that allows the schools to keep their K-12 programs.

But it also calls for both to place a greater emphasis on providing services to students who attend regular schools statewide.

State officials say it is no longer efficient and effective for the state to spend $16million annually to run the schools, when 80 percent of deaf and blind students are educated in their home districts.

But advocates say that by shifting staff and resources, the schools' core K-12 academic programs will suffer, as well as other outreach and diagnostic services the schools offer to hundreds of students around the state.

"They're setting it up to fail," said Carla Ruschival, a Kentucky School for the Blind graduate whose granddaughter also attends the school in Louisville.

Ruschival also was upset by a proposal that calls for dormitory, classroom and recreational space to be reduced at the school, in part to make room for more parking.

Board members say that plan hasn't been approved, and is one of four proposals being reviewed.

Board Chairman Keith Travis assured some of the group's representatives yesterday that board members are aware of their concerns, and listened to such concerns before developing the plan.

But advocates said they feel ignored, and they called on the board and Education Commissioner Gene Wilhoit to reassign three department officials who oversee the schools because they say they don't have experience with blind and deaf children, and how they learn.

They are: Johnnie Grissom, an associate commissioner who oversees the department's Office of Instructional Services; Barbara Kibler, director of the visually impaired/hearing impaired collaborative; and Bill Stearns, the department's liaison to the schools.

State officials said all three have the experience needed to help manage the School for the Blind and the Kentucky School for the Deaf, which has its main campus in Danville.

Travis said it is unfair for the group to focus their anger on the three employees, who have been "carrying out activities that the board's requested."

He emphasized that the board is not trying to close the schools but wants to serve the needs of all students statewide.

Copyright 2004 The Courier-Journal.