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December 30, 2004

School for Deaf, Blind cited for 97 violations

From: Richmond Times Dispatch, VA - Dec 30, 2004

The Associated Press
Dec 30, 2004

HAMPTON -- After nearly 100 violations dating back three years, the Virginia School for the Deaf, Blind and Multi-Disabled is operating under a provisional state license.

From 2001 through February 2004, the school violated 97 standards outlined for children's residential schools by the Office of Interdepartmental Regulation, a division of the state Department of Social Services that licenses children's residential facilities.

The violations were contained in a study obtained from the state Department of Education by the Daily Press of Newport News.

As a result of the violations, ranging from unreported student injuries to understaffing, the school was granted three consecutive one-year licenses starting in 2001, instead of a standard three-year license.

After a February 2004 inspec- tion, the Department of Education found the school in violation of 31 standards, and the school was given a six-month provisional license that was later extended to nine months.

Citing "systemic deficiencies" at the school, the Education Department gave the school's administration until the end of the year to either fix the problems or close.

Monday, the state gave the school a reprieve. It is now licensed until the end of 2005, but the state can revoke that license and close the school anytime before then if it does not implement an approved improvement plan.

On-site inspections in November 2003 and again in February found:
*Systemic deficiencies with staff development. Staff, for instance, was not trained annually in the use of physical restraints, and many hearing staff members could not communicate with deaf students and staff.
* Reports of fights resulting in injuries.
* A male staff member, who was later named in allegations of sexual misconduct with a student, impersonated a student to get another student's address.

Of the 34 children's residential schools regulated by the state Department of Education, the Hampton school is the only one with a provisional license, according to the Office of Interdepartmental Regulation's Web site.

In October 2003, a task force formed to plan the consolidation of the Hampton school and the state's other school for the blind and deaf in Staunton recommended that both schools be closed to make way for a new, more cost-efficient facility.

This month, a feasibility study released by the Department of Education reported that the new school could be ready as soon as August 2007.

Darlene White, the school's superintendent, said the school had continuously erased violations over the past three years and had worked diligently to comply with the state's standards and improve services.

In many cases, she said, the school has exceeded the standards.

"By no stretch of the imagination is this the same program it was three or four years ago," she told the Daily Press.

A number of violations in the report were not as they seem, White said.

She also said the continuing debate over consolidation had made it difficult to recruit and retain staff.

"My concern is that we're given a fair and accurate assessment," White said.

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