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July 27, 2005

Proposals could affect Va.'s impaired students

From: Richmond Times Dispatch, VA - Jul 27, 2005

Board to ponder fate of two state schools that serve deaf, blind


The fate of two Virginia schools that serve students who are deaf, blind or have multiple sensory disabilities is in the hands of the state's Board of Education.

Today, the board will consider two proposals that could affect more than 200 deaf and blind students who rely on the services of the schools -- one in Hampton and the other in Staunton.

The proposals have been submitted to the board under the Public-Private Education Act, a funding mechanism used to save time and money when building such public facilities as schools.

One proposal, submitted by Children First Public Private Partnership LLC, calls for renovating the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind at Staunton and moving students from the Virginia School for the Deaf, Blind and Multidisabled at Hampton to the Staunton location by the fall of 2007, effectively closing the Hampton facility by December of that year.

The other proposal, submitted by the Trammell Crow Co., recommends closing both campuses and putting a new facility in either Charlottesville, Richmond or Staunton.

The board could adopt either proposal or make modifications and come up with a different plan.

For nearly two decades, state education officials have wrestled with what to do with the two schools, which offer special services to students statewide as young as prekindergarten and as old as 22.

In 2003, a task force was assigned to look into the consolidation of the schools and create a feasibility study. The General Assembly has directed the Board of Education to continue the work started by the task force.

More than half the state's school divisions send students to the schools. Both campuses offer day programs for which students commute to the schools, as well as residency programs that allow students who do not live near the facilities to stay in dorms during the week.

The Staunton campus serves students who are deaf, hearing-impaired, blind and visually-impaired. Academics parallel the state's Standards of Learning tests, and students can earn a standard, modified or special diploma.

The Hampton school serves students with those same disabilities, plus those with multiple sensory disabilities. The school, which emphasizes vocational education and career preparation, offers students a special diploma or certificate of completion.

Enrollments at both schools have been declining. In 1980, the two schools served a total of nearly 500 students. This year, they served about 220 students.

The 2003 task force's consolidation plan pointed out that operating two schools is not cost-effective because it means funding two of everything -- teachers, equipment, grounds and maintenance crews, and health centers. The report said both schools need extensive renovations to meet accommodation standards for students with disabilities.

The plan said the students would be better served by one state-of-the-art facility that could offer a wider range of options and reduce the competition for resources between the schools.

Having one school would also eliminate what has historically been a disproportionate racial makeup of the two schools. The majority of Hampton's employees and students are black, while Staunton's campus population is mostly white.

The report showed a difference of opinion among task-force participants, which included representatives from the Department of Education, both schools, state agencies and parents. While seven task-force members supported closing both schools and building a facility, five members favored keeping both schools open.

However, during focus groups that included public school special educators and alumni groups for both schools, there was overwhelming support to keep both schools open. The report cited participants' loyalty to the communities served by the schools and potential issues with travel time if there is only one location.

Contact Holly Prestidge at (804) 649-6945 or

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