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December 2, 2004

Plan released on consolidating Deaf and Blind School campuses

From:, VA - Dec 2, 2004

Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- State schools for blind, deaf and disabled students in Staunton and Hampton should be consolidated at a cost of approximately $66 million, a report recommends.

While the report did not list any possible locations for the consolidated schools, it said the site must be centrally located with easy access to interstate systems.

Legislators and educators have debated the future of the two schools for years. The report released Wednesday addresses those concerns.

The two schools are the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind in Staunton, which traces its roots to 1839; and the Virginia School for the Deaf, Blind and Multi-Disabled at Hampton, which was founded in 1906 for black children who were not allowed to attend Staunton. It gradually expanded its population from the deaf and blind to include students with multiple disabilities, and focuses on teaching life skills.

The schools serve about 200 students and have combined budgets of $28 million. The consolidation plan requires approval of the legislature and governor.

The consolidation is intended to bring new teaching approaches under one roof and save energy and other costs, among other goals.

In Staunton, some parents and advocates of the school already are making the case for consolidating the schools there.

"I feel with creative thinking ... a plan could be put in place," said Casey Morehouse, the mother of two deaf sons. She said the possibility of consolidating in Staunton has been ignored by politicians and bureaucrats who do not understand the school's importance.

"The school is the heart of the deaf community in Virginia," Morehouse said.

Fred Yates, a former student, teacher and principal at the Staunton school, argued that Staunton is centrally located, near the interstate and an ideal choice for the consolidation.

"I feel sure that Gov. (Mark) Warner and the General Assembly will not find it easy to cancel out our historic Staunton campus which survived the Civil War, the Great Depression and situations many never dreamt of to continue keeping up-to-date and meeting the life needs of deaf and blind children," Yates wrote in an e-mail, The Daily News Leader of Staunton reported.

The report was prepared by Virginia Secretary of Education Belle Wheelan, state secretaries of health and human resources, the Virginia Board of Education, the Virginia Department of Education, as well as several other groups.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)