IM this article to a friend!

July 28, 2005

Board acts on schools for deaf, blind

From: Richmond Times Dispatch, VA - Jul 28, 2005

It will proceed with a plan to shut one of the two facilities or close both and build anew


The Virginia Board of Education yesterday agreed to move forward with a proposal to close one of two Virginia schools for deaf and blind students or close both and build a new facility.

The board chose to work with a proposal submitted by Texas-based real estate firm Trammell Crow Co. under the Public-Private Education Act, which is used as a way to build public facilities more quickly.

The board voted to do one of three things:

• Renovate either the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind at Staunton or the Virginia School for the Deaf, Blind and Multidisabled at Hampton and consolidate the two schools at either place.

• Close both schools and build a facility in either Hampton or Staunton.

• Close both schools and consolidate those resources in a new facility at an alternate location.

Although the board's vote theoretically leaves open the possibility of keeping the facility in Hampton, the proposal submitted by Trammell Crow gave no option for renovating the Hampton school or building a school in Hampton.

Trammell Crow called for consolidating the Hampton and Staunton campuses into the Staunton facility and making renovations there, or building a school in either Charlottesville, Richmond or Staunton.

The schools offer specialized services for deaf, hearing-impaired, blind and visually-impaired students. Additionally, Hampton admits students with multiple sensory disabilities.

But declining enrollments at both schools over the years prompted state education officials to consider consolidating both schools into one.

Yesterday, the board's public meeting room was packed, with many in the audience being alumni of the two schools. Most were present to support keeping either or both facilities open, particularly Hampton.

Numerous people voiced their concerns about closing the Hampton school, which some said has been the underlying assumption since consolidation talks first started in the late 1970s.

"If it had not been for the [Hampton] school, many . . . minority students would not have had an opportunity to experience an education," said Carmen Taylor, a representative of the NAACP who has two nephews in the Hampton school.

The Staunton school was founded in 1839 and admitted only white students. The Hampton school opened for black students in 1906. The schools were desegregated in the early 1970s, yet Staunton's staff and students remain mostly white, while the majority of Hampton's employees and students are black.

Rudy Langford, a Hampton school supporter, said the board should take all proposals off the table and consider new alternatives. He said it is inhumane to bus students hundreds of miles for an education, something that would have to be done with only one such school for the entire state. Langford called for using some of the state's surplus money to renovate both schools in their current locations.

"These students have no one to speak for them except us," Langford said. "This school in Hampton will stay open. This is not over. The fight has just begun."

Others spoke about how the changes would affect students.

"I want us to remember the children," said Del. Jeion A. Ward, D-Hampton. "When children are removed from their home setting [to a school] as much as four hours away, what type of home life are we giving these children?"

If the board chooses to build rather than renovate one of the existing facilities, the decision on where to put the new school would be made later.

Board President Thomas M. Jackson Jr. did not give a specific timetable for further action on the proposal, but said interested parties will have further opportunities to offer suggestions on site selection.

Contact Holly Prestidge at (804) 649-6945 or

© 2005, Media General, Inc. All Rights Reserved