The Braille Monitor                                                                                       February 2003

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Kentucky Department of Education
Attacks School for the Blind

by Pauletta Feldman

 

From the Editor: Pauletta Feldman is the secretary of the Kentucky Parents of Blind Children Division. She and her husband, Maurey Weedman, are both active NFB members. Their eighteen-year-old son Jamie Weedman is blind and attends the Kentucky School for the Blind (KSB) part-time. Jamie is mainstreamed to Central High School for several classes.

For many years blind Kentuckians have been justifiably proud of their school. It has a lovely campus, and in its buildings and programs students receive some of the best education available to blind young people today. As a state with a good deal of rural area, Kentucky's school districts have not made a serious effort to provide effective services to the blind students they are supposed to serve. The result has been that KSB has attracted a number of academically able blind students and has offered exemplary services, skills training, and education.

One would think that this recipe for success would protect the school from the sort of tampering that destroys service and undermines excellence. Not so. In the following article Pauletta Feldman describes what the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) is now doing to the blind and deaf students it is supposed to serve. This is what she says:

 

A broad spectrum of the blind community throughout the Commonwealth of Kentucky is protesting a recent plan introduced by the Kentucky Department of Education which could result in the destruction of the Kentucky School for the Blind. Concerned stakeholders include consumer groups, alumnae of the Kentucky School for the Blind, parents of blind children, and teachers of the visually impaired. A Save-KSB Steering Committee has been formed with NFB-K president Cathy Jackson as one of the members.

At the October 3, 2002, meeting of the Kentucky Board of Education, the leadership of the Department of Education unveiled an ill-conceived plan for revamping services to blind and visually impaired and deaf and hearing-impaired children in Kentucky. This plan will ultimately destroy the Kentucky School for the Blind (KSB) and the Kentucky School for the Deaf (KSD) and leave Kentucky's blind and deaf children at risk. Unfortunately, the Board of Education gave the plan its support, and implementation has begun, though no official board vote appears to have been taken.

This plan is similar to those in other states that have resulted in the weakening of schools for the blind and the deaf throughout the United States. The Kentucky School for the Blind, founded in 1842, is the third-oldest school for the blind in the nation; the Kentucky School for the Deaf, founded in 1823, is the oldest institution of its type in the country.

Of particular concern are two provisions of the plan:

1. Elimination of the superintendent positions at both KSB and KSD and replacing this expert leadership with a four-person team from the Department of Education, which lacks experience and expertise in administering educational plans for blind and deaf students

2. Restriction of access to the wealth of expertise at the two schools for children throughout Kentucky in grades kindergarten through eight

KDE leadership responsible for the plan have no real knowledge of blindness or blindness education. Their only guidance in forming the plan came from a $200,000 study commissioned by the Kentucky Board of Education and conducted by the American Institutes of Research (AIR) of Palo Alto, California. None of the researchers were familiar with the field of visual impairment but were instead specialists in school finance. AIR did commission experts in the field of visual impairment to provide direction; however, their advice and 110 years of collective experience in the field were barely tapped and ultimately discounted. And while a number of stakeholders participated in the study, their concerns went unheeded and their advice was ignored.

The AIR study revealed that the per-pupil costs at KSB were well below the national average. During the past couple of years KSB has exceeded state test score goals, boosted enrollment, and enhanced outreach to other parts of the state, while maintaining cuts in budget and personnel. Despite these promising trends, KDE has forged ahead with a flawed plan for blind children without heeding the views of those who live with or understand blindness.

Two families whose children attend KSB moved to Kentucky just so their blind children could receive a good education. They have come from states--Nebraska and New Mexico--where the schools for the blind have been weakened by draining resources to create regional programs.

"We came here because Kentucky still had a good school for the blind. And now they [KDE] are trying to do the same thing to KSB that was done to the Nebraska school," says Mitch Dahmke of Taylorsville, Kentucky.

While KDE claims that its plan will expand services to children, it will ultimately limit them by destroying the best option for a good education that many children in the state have. The proposed plan will make it virtually impossible for children throughout the state in grades K through eight to attend KSB and will have them instead educated through regional programs. However, Kentucky has a dire shortage of teachers of the visually impaired to staff regional programs. In response to this shortage the AIR study stated: "These circumstances suggest that this is not the best time to be raising standards for some of these professions." ("A Study of the Kentucky Schools for the Deaf and Blind," American Institutes of Research, May, 2002, p. 85)

Now this new plan for students who are blind or deaf is drawing national attention and concern. Several national organizations of and for the blind, representing the collective wisdom of tens of thousands of blind and visually impaired people, as well as nationally recognized experts in the field of visual impairment, are weighing in on the KDE plan. The groups include the National Federation of the Blind and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children in Baltimore, Maryland; the American Foundation for the Blind in New York City; the American Council of the Blind in Washington, D.C.; and the Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired in Alexandria, Virginia.

These national groups are expressing dismay at the removal of expertise from the guidance of the new plan through elimination of the superintendent positions at KSB and KSD. Of equal concern is the plan to regionalize services in such a way as to restrict younger students throughout the state from attending the schools, forcing them instead into regional programs--poor substitutes for the richness of educational experiences children at the schools currently receive.

Kentucky's blind children deserve to have a good education. Sadly, this will not happen if the Kentucky Department of Education has its way.

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