The Braille Monitor                                                                                       February 2003

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Kentucky Rallies to Save the
Kentucky School for the Blind

by Lora J. Felty

 

Lora Felty
Lora Felty

From the Editor: Lora Felty is secretary of the NFB of Kentucky and president of its division of the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille. She was also a 1992 NFB scholarship winner and now works with blind children as a teacher of the visually impaired. Here is her perspective on the Kentucky situation that Pauletta Feldman discussed in the preceding article:

 

As changes in special education have occurred in recent years and inclusion becomes the focus, the traditional role of schools for the blind seems to be becoming a thing of the past. In Kentucky we know the importance of maintaining specialized services for blind children, and we are fighting to maintain the proud 160-year tradition of the Kentucky School for the Blind.

Just over a year ago the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) began an initiative to study the Kentucky School for the Blind (KSB) and the Kentucky School for the Deaf (KSD). The Department of Education hired an independent agency to undertake a study that would look at the effectiveness of services provided by KSB and KSD and how they serve students across the state. The American Institute of Research (AIR) conducted a six-month study, and a final report and recommendations were presented to the Kentucky Department of Education this past June.

Throughout this process we in the blind community have been concerned about the outcome of the study. On October 3, at the KDE board meeting, a proposal entitled "A New Direction for Statewide Services Supporting Success for Children with Vision and Hearing Disabilities" was presented to the board. The proposal outlines many changes in the way blind and deaf children in Kentucky will be educated. Many of the recommendations appear positive, such as improving early identification and intervention strategies, strengthening regional programs, and creating comprehensive high school programs.

However, two key issues are of grave concern. First, the superintendents' positions were eliminated. Second, according to the plan regional service centers will be established and kindergarten-through-eight students will be educated near their homes. After the development of K-through-eight programs regionally, residential services for this group will be available only to students with the most severe disabilities. The superintendent positions were replaced by a committee of four, based in Frankfort, at the KDE office. On site the schools will be overseen by a business manager and a principal.

Knowing the fate of schools for the blind in other states, the blind in Kentucky took action. We established a Save-KSB Steering Committee, made up of representatives from parent groups, consumer organizations, and agencies serving the blind. On October 15 representatives from the Kentucky Department of Education met at the American Printing House for the Blind to discuss these changes with concerned citizens. The approximately ninety people who attended the meeting were disheartened at the KDE's unwillingness to consider the special issues associated with providing an appropriate education for blind children.

Since key individuals in the Kentucky Department of Education were unwilling to listen to our concerns, the Save-KSB Steering Committee decided to go directly to the top to voice our concerns. We initiated a letter-writing, e-mail, and phone campaign directly to Kentucky's governor, Paul Patton.

On Thursday, October 24, nearly a hundred people gathered at the Capitol in Frankfort. The NFB of Kentucky rented a bus to transport concerned people from the Louisville area, and others traveled from across the state to make our opinions known. Upon our arrival at the Capital, we were taken into a gathering room, where Governor Patton met with us. NFB-K President Cathy Jackson and others spoke to the governor, explaining the importance of maintaining current services for blind students.

The governor was stone-faced throughout the interview. He appeared both deaf and blind to our entreaties. Upon being questioned directly, he insisted that he has no control over decisions made by the Department of Education. He assured us that funding for services for blind and deaf children will not change. We have been told by other sources that funding will be available to carry out the plans outlined in the proposal. But this assurance comes at a time when the governor announces that a budget cut of $77 million will be made in elementary and secondary education during this fiscal year unless something is done to offset budget deficits.

Following the interview with the governor, we gathered on the capitol steps. Others had the opportunity to speak. Several people representing the deaf community voiced their concerns through an interpreter. Following the rally, news articles appeared in the Frankfort and Lexington papers. The Louisville and Lexington areas also received television news coverage.

Since we did not make an impression on the governor, our efforts continue. We are gathering letters of support from individuals and organizations from across Kentucky and the nation. These letters will be put in an information packet to be presented to Kentucky Board of Education members, Kentucky legislators, and others. We are writing letters to the editors of newspapers across the state, explaining the importance of maintaining services for blind children. We are also contacting legislators to let them know of our concerns.

As we continue to e-mail, write letters, and call the Department of Education, we are beginning to see some progress in our efforts. We have argued that the KSB superintendent position must be reinstated. In order to develop quality programs for visually impaired students, KSB must have leadership with expertise in that field. In November Dr. Ralph Bartley, who had been told that as of June 30, 2003, he would no longer hold his position as superintendent of the Kentucky School for the Blind, was appointed to oversee regional programs for visually impaired and hearing impaired students. He will take over this new position in January. Also, because we have argued that K-through-eight programs for all VI students from across Kentucky must be maintained at KSB as an option, KDE personnel appear to be backing off the initial proposal that K-through-eight programs be for children with only the most severe disabilities.

We know that the fight isn't over yet. As the new legislative session begins in January, we plan to make contact with legislators to gain their support. As this issue once again comes before the Kentucky Board of Education at its meeting in February, we plan to be there in force to let our opinions be known. We know what is best for blind children, and we won't stop until we are heard and heeded.

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