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November 1, 2008

La. Deaf School to reopen

From: 2TheAdvocate, LA - Nov 1, 2008

Advocate staff writer

The Louisiana School for the Deaf will reopen Wednesday, not Monday.
The state Department of Education closed the school Oct. 8, and had announced tentative plans to reopen the school Monday.

State Superintendent Paul Pastorek announced the two-day delay in reopening in a news release Friday, but the department began calling some families about the change in plans as early as Wednesday.

In another change, the school will reopen for all students, both day students and those residing at the school. Originally, the state was planning to bring back only day students initially.

“This is a very resilient school community, and although the temporary closing over the last few weeks has been difficult, we are confident that the work that has been done was necessary and will reduce the risk of harm to children and lead to a high-quality educational experience for all students,” Pastorek said.

The news release didn’t offer specific reasons for the two-day delay in reopening. Two phone messages left Friday with the department seeking comment were not returned.

Kaedra Arnold, grandmother of a student at the school, said she had a message left on her home phone Thursday that announced the change but didn’t explain why.

“I felt it was just because children were going to be off anyway on Election Day,” Arnold said, referring to the Nov. 4 presidential election, a day when some other public schools in Louisiana will be closed.

Pastorek ordered the school closed Oct. 8 after reports of a 16-year-old male student sexually assaulting a 6-year-old girl on a bus chartered by the school. The male student was arrested on a count of aggravated rape in Franklin Parish Oct. 17.

Five people — three of them current or former employees of the school — were arrested between November 2007 and April for alleged sexual misconduct with juvenile students.

Since the school was closed, state officials have been providing limited home service for students. The state suspended that service Tuesday to allow the staff of the School for the Deaf to prepare for reopening, according to the news release.

Sarah Fall, whose daughter goes to the school, said her daughter managed to get only five hours of help before returning. Fall said she wishes the school would go ahead and open Monday rather than wait.

Arnold said her grandson, Trey, also received only two sessions of help, but she was more positive about the reopening.

“I’m excited about him going back because that’s what he wants, and he’s excited,” Arnold said.

Both Arnold and Fall live in the Gonzales area.

In the release, Pastorek promised that the reopened school will be not only safe but will strive for high quality.

“This was not a pleasant time for anyone,” Pastorek said, “but what we learned over the last few weeks has re-enforced our determination to build a world-class model for deaf education at (the school).”

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