The Braille Monitor
38, No. 5
Barbara Pierce, Editor
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 38, No. 5 May 1995
PERSONAL COMMENTS AND AN OVERVIEW
by Barbara Pierce
THE FALL OF RICHARD UMSTED
by Barbara Pierce
THE PATTERN AND PRACTICE
by Barbara Pierce
FOOD FOR THOUGHT BUT NOT FOR CONSUMPTION AT ISVI
BEYOND THE FALL: AFTER-SHOCKS
AND SIGNS OF PROMISE
by Barbara Pierce
UMSTED WITHDRAWS FROM ALABAMA INSTITUTE JOB SEARCH
MARYLAND SCHOOL FOR THE
BLIND ON THE HOT SEAT:
ANOTHER NAC AGENCY IN SERIOUS TROUBLE
by Barbara Pierce
SIXTY-NINE MEMBERS AND FALLING:
THE NAC COUNT-DOWN CONTINUES
by Barbara Pierce
The Braille Monitor copyright
(c) 1995, National Federation of the Blind.
[LEAD PAGE PHOTO: Caption: For well over a century the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired has educated the state's blind children. In recent months discoveries have been made of serious problems at the institution. This issue of the Braille Monitor is devoted in large part to an examination of these problems. Pictured here is the main administration building at ISVI.]
COMMENTS AND AN OVERVIEW
by Barbara Pierce
For nearly seven years now I have been
covering stories and writing about blindness issues and the problems of blind
people for the Braille Monitor. Almost without exception the most personally
painful of these have been the scandals at some of the nation's most prominent
residential schools for the blind. The first was the repeated abuse and ultimate
death by scalding of a multiply-handicapped blind child at the Florida School
for the Deaf and Blind (March, 1989). Then came the series of shoddy practices
uncovered at the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind (February, 1990).
Most recently there were the spankings of staff and students at the Arkansas
School for the Blind, underscored by the fact that Superintendent Leonard Ogburn
did not even contest the truth of the charges.
Both the distress and the anger many of us have felt at learning about such events arises from the very innocence and helplessness of the young victims of the outrages. And when instead of articulating similar outrage and absolute refusal to countenance such behavior, school officials attempt to hide it or explain it away, the patience of decent people snaps. The school personnel caught in these scandals seem bewildered by the outcry and furious that their mistakes and lapses in judgment could (as they see it) have been so badly misconstrued and misunderstood.
They assure us that there have always
been unpleasant problems at residential schools and that it is nearly impossible
to hire conscientious, responsible staff members today at the low wages necessitated
by tight budgets. There is undoubtedly some truth to both these statements.
Few people would be naive enough to suppose that the incidents at the headline-making
schools are the only problems that have occurred at the nation's residential
schools in recent years.
In fact, the Ohio State School for the Blind felt compelled to fire a teacher last summer when officials learned that a number of young women students had accused him of trapping one in a storage closet and inappropriately fondling all of them and bringing the lower part of his torso into firm contact with various portions of their bodies. This alleged behavior had continued over a number of years; but when it became known, the school moved as quickly as possible to distance itself from the teacher and his alleged actions and to do what it could to bring him to justice. Unfortunately, from the perspective of the blind community in Ohio, when the case came to trial, the teacher was found not guilty of the charges by a jury which had apparently been persuaded by the defense attorney's argument that blind students require closer and more intimate contact by their teachers in order to feel affirmed and accepted. An attempt is now afoot to force the school to rehire the teacher, but the school seems to be doing what it can to resist this effort. The point of this digression is to illustrate that, even though fallible human beings will continue to engage in morally reprehensible acts, many residential school officials are capable of demonstrating courage, of insisting that justice be done, and of working to protect their students.
Now, yet another residential school for the blind is in the spotlight. This issue of the Monitor is devoted in large part to examining some of the deeply distressing incidents that have been reported to have occurred during almost two decades at the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired (ISVI). The reports have been painful and disturbing to research and difficult to write. They will undoubtedly be distressing to read as well. We must resist the temptation to write off the Illinois School as an evil place in which unspeakable things have happened to innocent disabled children. There are dedicated, compassionate members of the ISVI staff, some of whom have risked their jobs to talk with the Braille Monitor about what has happened. There are parents who are living through the nightmare of trying to help children who have been damaged by experiences of which they had had no knowledge. And there are blind children who continue to need a sound and healthy residential school in which to learn. There is plenty of blame and bad judgment to go around, and though some of those responsible have already lost their jobs, many close to the situation believe that a number of the people responsible for the suffering and cover-ups that have gone on for years are still employed and are still exerting pressure to keep their subordinates silent.
The following pages are our best attempt comprehensibly and accurately to tell the story as people have told it to us. There are no easy or simple explanations for what has happened. Our hope is that, by opening the situation to the light of day, we can encourage the necessary reforms. By and large, with the exception of senior school and Department of Rehabilitation Services officials, we have chosen to identify the parents who appear in these stories by letters of the alphabet and the children by fictitious names. Those close to the ISVI situation may recognize the families involved, but we see no reason to cause more embarrassment and pain to the children and parents than have already occurred. We have followed this practice even in the cases of those who would have been happy to have their real names used. We have decided to use the name of the parent whose name has already been identified in published news stories, and we have used the names of lower-echelon staff members if there seems to be significant evidence of their misconduct or if they have been identified in documents already made public.
Many people have made it possible for us to tell this story: employees and friends of the school who care deeply for the institution and want to see it healthy and able once more to serve the blind children of Illinois, parents who feel that their trust has been betrayed by school and rehabilitation officials, and public officials who have wanted help in seeing that justice is done. Federationist Harold Snider and his wife Linda spent nearly two weeks in down-state Illinois gathering evidence and working to unearth the truth. Without the effort and commitment of all these people and their eagerness to see the truth come out at last, there would have been no story and there would still be no hope. As it is, there are at least small signs that positive changes are occurring.
[Photo #1 A fairly empty, cracked, concrete
parking lot in front of a one story grocery store building. Caption: The IGA
supermarket where Richard Umsted now works]
FALL OF RICHARD UMSTED
by Barbara Pierce
On Friday, July 8, 1994, the Illinois
Department of Rehabilitation Services (DORS) announced that Dr. Richard Umsted,
Superintendent of the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired (ISVI), had
been placed on paid administrative leave following an internal DORS investigation
which had uncovered irregularities in Umsted's management of an alleged incident
in which a little boy was sexually assaulted by an older ISVI student. Both
the internal investigation and the state police investigation which DORS had
requested in early June indicated that the sixteen-year-old student had previously
inappropriately touched two female students and assaulted as many as three other
boys, plus the little boy already mentioned, who had been on campus in May of
1994 for evaluation.
By late August DORS officials were convinced that in a number of instances Dr. Umsted and his staff had failed to notify DORS, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), or the parents of the children after incidents of sexual abuse. Then on Tuesday, August 23, Audrey McCrimon, Executive Director of DORS, fired Umsted and permanently reassigned Mary Kamnick, director of residential services, to duties at DORS in Springfield, away from the school. Michael Jacoby, assistant superintendent and senior public service administrator, had already been granted medical leave until June of 1995 because of long-standing psychiatric problems. At the end of his leave he will become eligible for early retirement.
Though DORS did its best to keep the messy details quiet, the downfall of Richard Umsted sent shock waves through the community of Jacksonville and around the state. Dr. Umsted was a member of the local school board and a prominent member of area civic and religious organizations. In July of 1994 the minister of Umsted's church wrote a letter to the editor of the local Jacksonville newspaper protesting what had been done to his friend and parishioner and organized a letter-writing campaign to the Governor on Umsted's behalf. There are still many in Jacksonville who respect Umsted and maintain that he is, and always was, incapable of any such misdeed or lapse in moral judgment as the ones charged. Several past and present employees of ISVI also made it clear to the press that they could not credit reports of Umsted's malfeasance. Others, however, told reporters that Dr. Umsted frequently sought to protect the good name of the school by seeing that reports of student problems
were not filed in the first place as required by law or were made to disappear. One employee estimated for the Braille Monitor that ninety percent of the school staff was relieved at Umsted's departure and that it had taken the work of many people to get the three senior ISVI officials removed but that there were more who needed to go if ISVI were ever to regain its integrity.
So where does the truth lie? Let us begin by reporting, as best we can determine what actually happened on May 4, 1994, and in the weeks that followed.
On May 2 a little boy we will call Timmy was brought by his mother, Mrs. A, to ISVI for ten days of evaluation. Timmy, who was nine, was blind and had, according to his mother, reached the developmental age of about two and a half. She says that the family had once before considered and then rejected placement at ISVI because they had not been impressed with either the physical facility or the level of stimulation and education they had observed in the class Timmy would have joined. But Timmy was continuing to fall further and further behind his age group, and his public school teachers had suggested that it might be time to consider ISVI again in the hope that the staff there could do more to stimulate Timmy than his local school was doing.
Mrs. A later commented to the Braille Monitor that her only real fear at leaving her son alone in a strange setting had been that someone might hurt or molest him without his being able to tell her what had happened to him. But she left him, and the staff began his evaluation.
At lunch time on Wednesday, May 4, a staff member took Timmy to the bathroom and placed him on the toilet, and then left him alone for what she later officially reported was no more than three or four minutes. During that time a sixteen-year-old student, whom we will call Bill, entered the rest room and, according to his statement afterwards, took down his own pants, put Timmy on the floor, and lay on top of him, placing his penis between Timmy's legs.
According to the school's official anecdotal report of the incident, another student entered the room at this point and saw what was happening. He immediately ran to report it to the staff member who had left Timmy alone. When she entered the room, Timmy was back on the toilet, though he was shaking and obviously upset, and Bill was in another stall.
Fortunately for Timmy, a child care worker almost immediately made the mandatory call to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services hotline. This action was required by state law, but according to a number of sources close to the school, such calls were often not made at ISVI. Since the call had been made in this case, however, the DCFS-mandated procedure was carried out. Two staff members were fairly quickly assigned to take Timmy to the emergency room at Jacksonville's Passavant Hospital, where he was seen first by a male nurse and then by a physician. As noted in the ISVI social worker's written report, the hospital staff explained to him that in cases of possible sexual assault, they were required to collect several specimens but that in order to do so from a child they needed permission from the parents. One of the two ISVI staff members called the school and explained that someone there would have to call and inform Timmy's parents about what had happened and ask them to call the emergency room to give their permission for the medical procedures. Hours passed. It became clear, as the social worker's report indicates, that school officials wanted the test results in hand, or at least to have some more definitive medical information, before making the call to Mr. and Mrs. A.
Eventually, at 5:55 p.m., according to a letter that the A's later wrote to Illinois Governor Jim Edgar, the nurse took the initiative and placed a call to the A's, explaining that the doctor was waiting for parental permission before completing the necessary medical procedures to collect samples for sexual assault testing. When the nurse realized that Mrs. A didn't know what he was talking about, he explained what had happened to Timmy and called the doctor to the phone to talk with the A's. Having given their permission for sample collection, the A's started the long drive to the school, and Timmy was soon allowed to return to his cottage to wait for them.
Even though, as several people close
to the situation later admitted, everyone at the school knew that Bill had engaged
in a number of sexual attacks on other students in the past, the A's say that
they were repeatedly assured that evening that nothing like this had ever before
happened at the school. According to Mrs. A, the investigating police officer
and a senior residential care worker both made a point of telling her that this
was a first. Mrs. A reported that the school official, Polly Williams, described
to the A's the way she had held Timmy while the blood sample was drawn and had
comforted him, though in fact the social worker's official report of the incident
shows that she had not been at the hospital at all. She also later told the
Braille Monitor reporter that she had called both the A's and Mr. A's parents
that afternoon. It is possible that a call was placed to the home of the A's
after they left for Jacksonville. Mr. A confirmed that his parents were called
after he and Mrs. A had left for ISVI, but both the A's maintain that the only
call they themselves received was from the hospital almost four hours after
Timmy had arrived in the emergency room. The A's were not reassured by what
they heard and saw at the school. They packed Timmy's things and left, having
talked with school officials and police and made clear their intention to press
In the following days the A's say they were dismayed to learn that school officials had made the decision not to test the samples collected from Timmy. The A's report that they were furious at this decision and were unclear about exactly who had made it. They were, of course, concerned about possible disease in Timmy as well as how deep the trauma he had suffered might be. They report that they tried on several occasions to contact DCFS to learn about the progress on the sexual assault investigation and were finally told that it had been closed and no charges were being brought.
Before going further, we should say something about the calls that were and were not made on the afternoon of the incident. An ISVI staff member reports overhearing Polly Williams report the incident to Dr. Umsted fairly early that afternoon. He was involved with visitors on campus that day and was dividing his time between school business and the requirements of the institution's guests. According to this staff member, Umsted clearly instructed Williams to call DCFS. Mrs. Williams told the Braille Monitor that Mary Kamnick, who was at the time director of residential services and who, according to Umsted, was the official actually charged with seeing that in such cases both the parents and DCFS were notified, directly countermanded Umsted's order to her to report the incident to DCFS. Whether Kamnick also told Williams to postpone calling the parents until test results were available, or whether Williams simply dreaded doing the job and put it off until it was too late to catch them at home, is hard to tell. When asked to comment about the slowness of the school's response that day and the reported failure to do so in other cases, Richard Umsted explained that, while he was superintendent, the senior school official in each division was responsible for making such calls. He says that he himself did not make such calls. He went on to say that the staff member who was to have made the calls had, as far as he knew, never been reprimanded for failure to do so, and she was still employed. But whether this statement referred to Mary Kamnick or Polly Williams was not clear.
Meanwhile, about two weeks after the attack on Timmy, the A's report that they received an anonymous call from a member of the residential staff at ISVI. The caller expressed fear of losing his or her job but said that a cover-up was going on and that the A's were not being told all the facts. The caller gave Mrs. A the names and phone numbers of two other parents and made the strong suggestion that she call them and learn what they could tell her. When Mrs. A made the calls, she reports that she
learned of two previous incidents in which Bill had forced himself on students--one another boy and the other a teenage girl.
According to the A's, they then decided to do what they could to see that what had happened to their son would not happen to anyone else because of a cover-up. Mrs. A said that all three families believed that, if proper steps had been taken in the earlier cases, Timmy would not have been hurt. The A's knew Illinois Governor Jim Edgar and his wife Brenda. They wrote a detailed letter to their friends the Edgars and asked that the Governor see that such a thing not happen at ISVI again. Members of the governor's staff later reported to the Braille Monitor that he was furious, both about what had happened to Timmy and about ISVI efforts to cover it up. He ordered that the Department of Rehabilitation Services undertake an investigation immediately.
Shortly thereafter DORS officials told the A's that the decision had been made to have Timmy's samples tested after all and that the results indicated that the assault had not been completed. In talking to the Braille Monitor, the A's said that they were relieved to learn this information but that Timmy was still suffering the effects of his experience. When he returned to his school and walked into his class for the first time after the ISVI experience, his teacher reported to the A's that he said, "Timmy A is dead." For sometime after his return he also resisted entering the faculty rest room at school, the facility he had always used because of his need for teacher assistance. This year he is in a new class setting, and he is making some progress, but his parents have absolutely decided that he will remain at home until they can be certain that the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired has been completely cleaned up. To her everlasting credit, Mrs. A has agreed to serve as a member of the ISVI Advisory Council and is doing what she can to improve things for the blind students who attend the institution.
There in summary is the proximate cause of Richard Umsted's firing. When news of what had happened and of the subsequent investigations began to leak out, the story was covered all over the state. Here is a representative sample which appeared in the July 16, 1994, edition of the Charleston, Illinois, Times-Courier:
State Police Probing Assault of Local
Boy at ISVI Campus
by Amy Carnes
The handling of an alleged student-to-student
sexual assault at the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired has resulted
in a state police probe and suspension of the school's top administrator.
A Charleston woman said her seven-year-old son was sexually assaulted by an older student in May while he was visiting the Jacksonville residential campus for a two-week evaluation. She believes the case was mishandled by school officials.
The Illinois Department of Rehabilitation in Springfield has concluded an internal investigation of the matter, according to spokeswoman Melissa Skilbeck. She said she could not release the findings of the inquiry because a state police investigation is pending as officials conduct interviews with school employees and others.
"We are quite literally in the middle of a state police investigation and are in a position where we are dealing with minors," she said, explaining why she could not give out additional information.
Skilbeck did not know when the police inquiry would be completed.
Although no details of the department's investigation have been made public, some action has been taken. Last week Audrey McCrimon, Director of the Department of Rehabilitation Services, placed the superintendent of the school, Richard Umsted, on paid administrative leave.
In a press release, McCrimon said she made the decision "due to a state police investigation of serious allegations concerning his performance as superintendent of the ISVI. While Dr. Umsted is on administrative leave, he will remain off campus and be relieved of all his duties as superintendent."
The mother said she believes Umsted should be permanently removed from the superintendent's position, which he has held for more than twenty years.
"There needs to be some major changes in the administration of the school," she said. "They are so accustomed to lying and covering up--they're still doing it over there.
"We're not after the boy (who allegedly assaulted their son)," she said. "We're upset with the system."
The ISVI would not discuss the matter and referred all questions to the Department of Rehabilitation Services.
The mother said she first found out about the incident when she received a call from the Jacksonville hospital seeking permission to treat her son. She said ISVI officials never contacted her.
The mother said she has since learned of three other student-to-student sexual assaults at ISVI, two of which were supposedly committed by the same youth she claims assaulted her son.
An anonymous call from one of the school's residential care workers led to her awareness of the other incidents.
The mother said the other alleged student-to-student sexual assaults were covered up and not reported to medical or law enforcement officials.
The boy who allegedly assaulted her son is a sixteen-year-old visually impaired student with cerebral palsy.
ISVI has 130 students ranging in age from three to twenty-one. In addition to visual problems, some of the residents have other disabilities, said Harold Klopowitz of the Department of Rehabilitation.
"Many people who are blind are mainstreamed (into public schools)," he said. "Multiple disabilities is why they end up at ISVI."
State Representative Mike Weaver, R-Ashmore, said he was not aware of any student-to-student sexual assaults occurring at ISVI.
"If that, in fact, is happening, the management of the school and the agency are going to have to take some pretty harsh steps," he said.
There you have the story as it was being
reported immediately following Richard Umsted's placement on administrative
leave, but events are almost always more complex than they appear at first glance.
Who is Dr. Richard Umsted? What was the character of his administration at the
Illinois School for the Visually Impaired? And what is known of the management
team with which he surrounded himself? Information on all these things is necessary
to an understanding of what happened and continues to happen at ISVI.
Richard Umsted taught in several schools for the blind before enrolling in the Peabody doctoral program at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. After earning his Ed.D., he returned to teach at Northern Illinois University before assuming the responsibilities of Superintendent at the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired in 1976. He and his family have been part of the Jacksonville community ever since.
Dr. Umsted's supporters cite his active participation in community organizations as an indication of his value as a citizen. According to a number of ISVI employees and supporters, he has been a member of several area churches, an active Lion and United Way volunteer, a member of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, and an elected member of the District 117 School Board. He is the recipient of the Melvin Jones Award, said to be the highest award in Lionism. According to one member of the local Lions club, a club nominates its candidate for this award; and if he is chosen, the club pays the $1,000 price of the award. According to this source, Umsted approached his club's leadership and offered to cover the cost of the award if the club would nominate him. Dr. Umsted's explanation of this event when questioned by the Braille Monitor was that his wife and children wanted to do something to show their appreciation and devotion, so they offered to reimburse the club for the cost of the award. A member of the local Lions Club also complained that Dr. Umsted's perfect attendance record at Lions meetings was achieved by often dropping by the meeting for a cup of coffee during the ten-minute period when the roll was taken.
In fact a number of those with whom we spoke commented in various ways concerning Dr. Umsted's failure to participate in ISVI campus events and said that he spent very little time at extracurricular activities. A number of people commented that Umsted did not know the students' names unless they were sports stars or trouble-makers or unless their parents were active in school affairs. When asked about these allegations, Dr. Umsted explained that he had children of his own and a family life to maintain, that a job like his could consume one if limits were not drawn, and that he had looked in on as many school activities as he could.
From the time of dismissal to the date of the writing of this article, Richard Umsted has continued to receive considerable personal and public support from a number of friends and acquaintances in the Jacksonville community. Here is a story that appeared in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier on July 12, 1994 just four days after Umsted was suspended:
Colleagues Defend ISVI Chief's Work
Many Express Disbelief at Suspension
by Lisa Kernek
The superintendent of the Illinois School
for the Visually Impaired has been a strong leader for a troubled school, according
to past and present colleagues.
Past and present employees reacted with disbelief to the suspension Saturday of Richard Umsted, whose handling of alleged student-to-student sexual contact is being investigated by State Police. The employees credited Dr. Umsted with saving the school, on more than one occasion, from closing, and with working long hours and acting in the best interests of students.
One critic said he is a weak disciplinarian.
But, "No matter what he does, he's bound to run into trouble," one defender, a former teacher who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, "We're dealing with a very volatile population of students."
Some students at the residential campus suffer mental handicaps or behavioral problems as well as visual problems.
The investigation of Dr. Umsted centers on his handling of a student's alleged sexual assault on a child visiting the campus for an evaluation.
"These things go on and it's unfortunate, but it's life," Judy Williams, a social studies teacher, said. "I think this is being unfairly put on (Dr. Umsted)."
Department of Rehabilitation Services spokeswoman Melissa Skilbeck said the agency stands by the suspension.
During periods of declining enrollment at the School for the Visually Impaired, as growing numbers of handicapped children attended mainstream schools, state officials considered closing the campus, said one retired employee who spoke on condition his name not be used. Dr. Umsted organized letter-writing campaigns that saved it, the employee said.
"In saving the school, he saved my pension," the employee said.
But another former colleague, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Dr. Umsted was "weak on discipline."
"There was things that happened that he didn't report (to the police) because he didn't want to put his name on the block," the employee said.
Dr. Umsted, reached at his home, referred all questions to the Department of Rehabilitation Services.
However, a school employee speaking on condition of anonymity said police may have investigated incidents without the knowledge of everyone on campus. In the past police have sent officers in plain clothes to the campus, the source said.
The Department of Rehabilitation Services has concluded an internal investigation begun in May, Ms. Skilbeck said. State Police, who began investigating last month, interviewed school employees Monday, and state officials say they don't know how long that phase of the investigation will take.
That is what the Jacksonville newspaper said. Yet it was far from being all beer and skittles for Umsted and his supporters. While the latter were organizing letter-writing campaigns and letters to the editor, other people were beginning to consider the implications of what was being revealed by the investigations. On July 27, 1994, and again on August 31, 1994, the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, which according to residents of the community had been a strong supporter of ISVI and Richard Umsted in the past, ran editorials that reflected a deep concern for the school for the blind and for the community of Jacksonville and its public schools. Here they are:
Umsted Should Take Leave From School
Results of Investigation Would Determine Return
Dr. Richard Umsted should ask the Jacksonville
School Board to excuse him from further service until the investigation of his
conduct as superintendent of the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired is
completed. As sad as is the situation Dr. Umsted finds himself in, there really
is no other logical course available to him if our students are to be properly
We won't go into the details of the investigation here [the editorial continues] except to say they revolved around some very serious charges concerning care and protection of students and visitors at ISVI. Illinois Department of Rehabilitation Services officials viewed the charges with such alarm that they called in the state police to give the matter a complete review.
That said, and giving Dr. Umsted his due to a presumption of innocence in all respects, it nonetheless appears that the best course Dr. Umsted could take relative to his continued service on the school board is to take a sort of leave of absence until the air is clear. The work of school board members--and of the school board as a whole--is too sensitive and too important to allow for any questions of the sort being investigated to attach to either individual board members or to the board as a whole.
We've known Dr. Umsted ever since he came to Jacksonville and have watched with much approval as he's worked hard for his school and as he's built it into a much finer institution than it was when he took over. The last thing we want to see is his good name impeached, but, as long as there are questions of the sort described above being investigated, he must for the time being step aside from his duties as a school board member.
Let's all hope the investigations are ended soon and that Dr. Umsted is quickly restored to his post as ISVI superintendent and then as a member of our hard-working school board. Until that time, we trust he'll do what's right and will take a leave from our school board.
The second editorial appeared a week after the DORS announcement of Dr. Umsted's actual firing. Here is the August 31 editorial:
Dr. Umsted Should Quit School Board
District 117 Attorney Also Faces Conflict
Despite District 117 Superintendent
Robert Freeman's efforts to suggest otherwise, Dr. Richard Umsted's continued
presence on the school board constitutes a serious problem for the district.
Dr. Umsted was fired last week from his job as superintendent of the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired after an investigation concluded that he had failed to report to his superiors cases of repeated sexual abuse involving students.
Dr. Freeman said Dr. Umsted "has been a very effective member of the board. I think he could continue to be."
Sorry, Dr. Freeman, but we disagree.
As we have written previously, this was not just some bureaucratic oversight by Dr. Umsted, but a failure to carry out the first duty of any educator, to protect students from harm. Further, the parents of at least one student who was the victim of what amounted to a sexual assault apparently were not notified by the school about what had happened to their son.
Those failures forever compromise Dr. Umsted's role as a maker and enforcer of sensible educational policy. How can parents and students of the District 117 public schools have faith that Dr. Umsted will act in their best interest when it is clear that he failed to do so for the parents and students at ISVI?
Clouding things further is this: Dr. Umsted is represented by Jacksonville attorney Larry Kuster, who also provides legal counsel for the District 117 Board of Education.
That creates a conflict for Mr. Kuster, who should have declined to represent Dr. Umsted or given up--at least temporarily--his position as counselor to the district.
It's a mess, isn't it?
The best advice we can offer Dr. Umsted is to do what is right and resign his seat on the District 117 Board of Education immediately. That would eliminate Mr. Kuster's looming conflict of interest and reassure parents and students of the district that the school board places their concerns above all others.
That is the August 31 editorial, and it indicates the changing mood of the Jacksonville community. From information provided by parents who were interviewed by the police during July and August, 1994, it is now clear that by late August Audrey McCrimon, Director of the Department of Rehabilitation Services, was in possession of too much damaging evidence to do anything but fire Richard Umsted. Through the years student-against-student sexual attacks had occurred with disturbing frequency. Moreover, there was evidence that reports of some of these incidents had been destroyed and that others had never been filed at all. Here is the press release that was circulated by DORS:
August 23, 1994
Audrey McCrimon, Director of the Department
of Rehabilitation Services (DORS), announced today that she has terminated Dr.
Richard Umsted, Superintendent of the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired
(ISVI) in Jacksonville.
McCrimon said Umsted was terminated for overall management deficiencies, most specifically of which were his failing to take proper protective action to safeguard students from a sexually aggressive student, failing to respond appropriately to reports of improper sexual contact between students, and failing to consistently notify the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), the parents of involved students, and his superiors at DORS of the reported incidents.
"First and foremost of any school administrator's responsibility is the safety and well-being of the children entrusted to his or her care. That responsibility is non-negotiable and non-discretionary," said Director McCrimon. "Information obtained by the department establishes that Dr. Umsted routinely failed to carry out this responsibility. Therefore, in the best interest of the students of the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired and the integrity of the school itself, I have terminated Dr. Umsted effective immediately."
An investigation revealed that Umsted failed to appropriately handle a series of instances involving a sexually aggressive male student. The sixteen-year-old's aggressive behavior was brought to DORS' attention in May when Umsted's office reported that the student had attempted to sexually abuse a nine-year-old boy visiting ISVI for an evaluation.
McCrimon ordered an internal review of the situation involving the nine-year-old, and it revealed that several sexual incidents involving the sixteen-year-old had gone unreported to DORS, DCFS, and the parents of affected students. Among the incidents not appropriately reported were the inappropriate and unwelcome touching of two female students and the possible sexual abuse of four male students, including the nine-year-old.
DORS' internal review was completed the end of May, and McCrimon requested the Illinois State Police independently investigate the situation in early June. Given the different functioning levels of the children suspected of being abused, DORS hired a sexual abuse counselor specially trained in interviewing children with multiple disabilities to assist the State Police.
The State Police investigation into the matter is continuing.
There we have the McCrimon press release. The story of Umsted's firing received even broader publicity across the state than had the earlier ones, but it was in Jacksonville, where Umsted's support was strongest, that the editor of the Journal-Courier spoke out most clearly about the rights and wrongs of the case. Here is what he had to say on August 24, 1994:
ISVI's Dr. Umsted Had to Go
Failure to Report Abuse Cases Warranted Dismissal
Dr. Richard Umsted deserved to be fired.
From all evidence, it appears that Dr. Umsted, who spent two decades as superintendent
of the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired, made the unpardonable mistake
of failing to report sexual abuse cases involving students at the school.
Under both state law and the policies of the state Department of Rehabilitation Services, Dr. Umsted's responsibilities were clear.
He was supposed to inform both DORS, the Department of Children and Family Services, and the students' families when evidence indicates that a child has been sexually abused.
That Dr. Umsted failed to do so, as DORS alleged in announcing his firing, is incomprehensible.
How could anyone think it prudent that parents not be told that their child had been the victim of a sexual assault? How could anyone expect to be able to keep other people, including one's superiors, from finding out?
Some of the children at ISVI, a residential facility, face multiple physical and mental disabilities, and it would be unrealistic to think that sexual experimentation does not occur, despite the most conscientious supervision.
However, when a student is sexually aggressive, he or she constitutes a problem for other students and staff that cannot be ignored or wished away. The incident must be reported immediately and the student removed from campus so that he or she cannot threaten others.
This is a sad way for a career to end, but the violation of both policy and the rules of common sense appears to be so serious that Dr. Umsted had to go.
That is what the Jacksonville newspaper
said, and there in plain language you have the story of what happened last summer
at ISVI. Charles Martin, DORS director of educational services and for the final
year and a half of Umsted's time at ISVI Umsted's boss, was named to serve as
interim superintendent until a successor can be appointed. But it will be a
long time before the dust settles. Despite statements by the office of the state's
attorney to the press, including the Braille Monitor, as late as mid-March
that the state police investigation was still going on, it actually appears
to have ended a few weeks after Umsted's firing and Mary Kamnick's permanent
transfer in late August. No charges of any kind were brought against Umsted,
but there is increasing talk of a civil suit against him and also against the
state by parents of children who were allegedly abused by ISVI students and
staff. Martin is working hard to try to rebuild trust in the school, but everyone
is treading very warily for fear of stirring up more trouble or, as some ISVI
employees expressed it to the Braille Monitor, suffering reprisals from
the members of Umsted's management team who still have their jobs.
And what does Richard Umsted say about all of this? He is a man whose world has clearly come crashing down around him. In listening to the recording of his interview with the Braille Monitor, one is struck by his obvious pain and dismay at what has happened. When asked for his explanation of the events, Umsted says that he was the most visible and effective proponent of categorical services for the blind in Illinois. According to Umsted, Audrey McCrimon and her DORS administration are determined to do away with categorical services altogether, and it was necessary to remove him in order to do so. Umsted predicts that in the next few years we will see separate services for blind Illinoisans disappear altogether.
In an interview with the Braille Monitor McCrimon denied Umsted's allegation entirely. She pointed to her strong commitment to building a new independent-living center on the ISVI campus as dramatic indication of her belief in the importance of categorical services for the blind. She said that, if she had thought the school for the blind should be melded into other facilities, she would not be demonstrating what she called "a bricks-and-mortar commitment" to ISVI.
When asked how he accounted for the destruction of files and the repeated failure of ISVI officials to report problems in accordance with state mandates, Umsted told the Monitor that the specific responsibility for fulfilling these requirements belonged to the various department heads: Mary Kamnick, director of residential services; Les Stevens, principal of the elementary school; Michael Jacoby, assistant superintendent and senior public service administrator; Bill Forney, director of student services; and Kathy Hughes, director of education. He said that he recognized that the buck stopped with him and that's why he had taken the fall. But without actually accusing his subordinates he left the Monitor reporter with the impression by implication that decisions to suppress information or destroy reports had been made without his knowledge. And indeed a significant amount of document destruction seems to have taken place following Umsted's suspension in early July while he was prohibited from setting foot on the campus.
In the days following the suspension, a number of ISVI employees report that several people who had never before been seen to shred documents were engaged in a significant amount of document destruction at the school. One said that last summer a number of people (including Les Stevens, Kathy Hughes, and even the superintendent's secretary on the one afternoon that the acting superintendent was off campus) were observed shredding documents. A visually impaired janitor later said that he had carried out twelve bags of these documents, which he could identify by color as yellow anecdotal reports and white log sheets.
David Postle, an alumnus and current member of the ISVI Advisory Council, heard about the document destruction almost immediately. He says that he contacted the state police with the information. Postle reports that they were furious at the news and went directly to McCrimon, DORS Director, and told her to see that the destruction stop, but he says that it took DORS three weeks to get around to warning ISVI employees not to remove any documents from the files. It is fair to say that David Postle is extremely wary of DORS statements of their good intentions, and it is equally fair to say that Postle is not the favorite person of DORS officials. The same uneasy relationship has existed for years between Postle and senior administrators at ISVI.
Umsted commented to the Braille Monitor that he simply could not imagine why Postle had it in for him. Postle says that he loves the school and that he is committed to seeing that it has a chance to do the best it can for Illinois's blind children. Regardless of why and where the grudges exist, one thing is clear: David Postle has the confidence and respect of more employees, alumni, and parents of ISVI students than any one else seems to have. His commitment to the institution and the children it serves is almost palpable, and there seems to be nothing for him to gain and much to lose because of his involvement in this painful situation. His wife is an orientation and mobility teacher at the school. He is a retired DORS rehabilitation counselor. The couple are certainly vulnerable to reprisals, but at an institution in which there have been many alleged threats of firings over the years, Postle has been unwavering in his efforts to see that what he regards as justice is done.
Before concluding this recital of calamities, we must report two more statements that Richard Umsted made to the Braille Monitor. We asked him about reports we received from quite a number of ISVI employees about a romantic attachment between him and Nancy Ford, a supervisor of house parents. (Staffers report observing them at a school dance during which for about forty-five minutes Umsted was supposed to have had his arm around Ford. The two were also often seen in very close, some say apparently intimate, conversation at the school.) Umsted emphatically and categorically denied the relationship. In fact, he pointed out that such behavior would have been absurdly blatant for a man with a wife and family to engage in. He also denied that he had ever made a practice of threatening members of his staff with job loss. His comment on this subject was that he would have been a fool to say such things. He says that, considering the number of unions on the campus, he would have faced grievances all over the place if he had tried it.
Chronicles like the recent events at the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired are rarely black and white. Certainly this story has no winners. The most infuriating part of the debacle is that the most helpless (the multiply handicapped blind children) have been the most abused victims. But they are not the only victims. A number of parents have also suffered serious, continuing emotional pain. The school has suffered a tremendous blow to its reputation in the community, the state, and the blindness field. Michael Jacoby seems to be a broken man. Mary Kamnick is still the subject of a personnel action, which may ultimately cost her her employment. And Richard Umsted's career in the blindness field would appear to be at an end. In the months since his firing he has reportedly been working as a stock boy in the produce department of the local Harmon IGA grocery store in Jacksonville. Obviously he needs to support himself and his family, but his recent efforts to find jobs in the blindness field have had tragiccomic if not grotesque aspects. (See the article, "Umsted Withdraws from Alabama Institute Job Search," elsewhere in this issue and "The Arkansas School for the Blind Still Front-Page News" in the April, 1995, issue of the Braille Monitor.)
In short, there are more than enough victims, fall guys, and villains, to go around. But we must always return to the children. They deserve commitment, integrity, compassion, and love. There are still many employees at the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired who have been unwavering in their dedication to the children, but there are others who seem to have lost sight of this fundamental and central commitment. The good name of the school, the reputation of school officials, and the impulse not to make waves seem too often to have gotten in the way of doing what was in the best interest of the children.
Now that Umsted and two of his administrators are gone, things may be beginning to change at the school. Does reform have a chance? Maybe. Old patterns of thought and practice die hard, and for several people still on the ISVI staff, papering over the problems that have been revealed would be an attractive resolution of the trouble. It is very difficult for entrenched bureaucracy to bring about change, and change is what must occur at ISVI if the past is to be dealt with responsibly. The best we can say at the moment is that ISVI may have a chance. We have been told by some that it is a new day at ISVI, and there are possible indications that this may be so. But realistically one must admit that the weight of history is against those seeking change. They face long odds, but let us hope that the new day at the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired will be a lucky one. The school will need luck.
[Photo #2 A small, brick, windowless
building marked with the word gymnasium with a few pieces of pre-school playground
equipment. Caption: The gymnasium at the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired.]
PATTERN AND PRACTICE OF ABUSE
by Barbara Pierce
Elsewhere in this issue we examined
the incident which, because of mismanagement, led directly to the firing, reassignment,
and retirement of three senior officials of the Illinois School for the Visually
Impaired (ISVI). But very little occurs in a vacuum, and recent events at ISVI
are no exception. In our early days of trying to research this story, many people
explained their reluctance to be quoted, or even to talk to the press off the
record, by saying that the history of abuse of various kinds was so consistent,
and the pattern of retaliation against those who attempted to complain so clear,
that they believed the risks too great and the possibility of change too small
for them to take the chance.
Jacksonville is a quiet and stable community of about 20,000. Though its industrial base is growing, state institutions of various kinds provide much of the town's employment base and economic strength. Even when people change jobs, they often move from state institution to state institution rather than leaving the area. So memories are long and grudges can be protracted. Moreover, people are remarkably protective of institutions. For example, months after the close of the police investigation of the Umsted matter, the office of the state's attorney was still assuring the Braille Monitor that it was continuing and that by law he could therefore not release the report or even let anyone read it. But even with the conspiracy of silence that seems to keep any department of state government from saying anything negative about another in Illinois, there would appear to be a sort of undercurrent of dissatisfaction with ISVI in the community.
For example, one morning when the Braille Monitor reporter was at breakfast in his hotel, the server mentioned that she had two sisters who were blind. He explained a little about the story he was in town to research, and she told him that one of her sisters had been raped at ISVI in 1977. She was clearly still angry about the experience and the way it was handled, and she was sure that her mother and sister would be happy to talk with the Braille Monitor about what had happened. This is the story that Mrs. B and her daughter, whom we will call Sandy, related. In school Sandy was designated a slow learner. In 1977 she was dating a student who was a star wrestler. When the rape occurred, Sandy immediately told both her mother and school officials. Mrs. B was dismayed and angry to learn that school personnel had not bothered to arrange for either medical attention or rape counseling for her daughter. When she taxed the relatively new Superintendent, Richard Umsted, with these omissions, he told her plainly that the school had no intention of reporting the rape to authorities and, if she did so, school officials would deny that it had occurred at all. Never mind that Sandy maintained that she had been raped: the wrestling star said the encounter was consensual and that was the way it was going to be. The family recognized the inevitable: they were powerless to see that justice was done. Eighteen years later those on campus who could still remember the incident at all dismissed it in talking with the Braille Monitor as a situation in which the boy said it was consensual, and the girl claimed it was rape. According to the B's, Sandy still feels betrayed, and the family is still angry at what they perceive as the arrogance of power expressed by Richard Umsted.
In his interview with the Braille Monitor Dr. Umsted acknowledged that some sexual exploration among students went on during his years at ISVI. He pointed out, however, that this is inevitable in any residential school with a student body that includes adolescents. When asked whether he remembered dealing with Sandy B and her mother, Umsted said that he could not recall anything about the case.
Perhaps what happened to Sandy B might be interpreted as sexual exploration, though the school's response as described by Mrs. B is difficult to credit. But the institution seems to have experienced an even more questionable bout of so-called sexual exploration in the early eighties when, according to school employees, one rather large female high school student forced a number of lower functioning girls to satisfy the thirst for knowledge of some of the male students after hours at a nearby lumber yard. The boys reportedly paid the organizer $2 a lesson. ISVI employees at the time recall that the lumber yard used to call the school regularly to inquire whether they wanted to retrieve the ISVI blankets left at the site of the exploration. Presumably, not being school property, the used condoms also found in the area, according to ISVI staff, were not reclaimed along with the blankets.
Amateur prostitution wasn't the only illegal and bizarre behavior reportedly being practiced at ISVI in the early eighties, according to those close to the school who recounted the history of the institution to the Braille Monitor. A group of high school boys reportedly began stealing small electronic apparatus--tape recorders, radios, and the like. They allegedly hid the stolen property in a suitcase and buried the case in the middle of the running-track until the outcry calmed down. When pressed for an explanation of why, if officials knew so much, the officials didn't step in to stop what was going on, the comment was made to the Braille Monitor that the administration was afraid of the students. Hard as it seems to believe, those with whom we spoke insisted that that was the way it happened.
One alumnus of ISVI who has continued to be closely associated with the institution through the years told the Braille Monitor reporter that he left the school in the middle of his senior year because the drug scene there was too much for him. He says that he went to Umsted to complain about the situation. He says that Umsted said he wished he could clean it up but that Springfield (in other words, his bosses at the Department of Rehabilitation Services) wouldn't let him.
These anecdotes provide an indication of the general atmosphere that existed at ISVI in the 1980's. According to a written report now in the hands of a parent, one morning in 1984 Michael Jacoby, assistant superintendent, was called in to look at a seven-year-old blind student who was profoundly mentally retarded and who had cerebral palsy. The child, whom we will call David, seemed to have been seriously sexually assaulted. Bruising on the buttocks and in the anal cleft, noticeable irritation of the foreskin, and scratches were all visible, according to the report that was placed in the student's file. The residential care worker said that she had noticed the marks when she dressed David that morning, but she had not seen them the morning before, according to the report. Despite the suggestive nature of the injuries, Mr. Jacoby and the other staff members present decided, according to the report in the parent's possession, not to have the child examined by a physician and not to notify either the Department of Children and Family Services or David's father, Ron Stevens. (Mr. Stevens has decided to bring suit against the school and has been quoted by name in news stories.)
Mr. Stevens told the Braille Monitor that he continued to be unaware through the intervening ten years of other sexual assaults made on his son. In fact, as he tells the story, it was not until early July of 1994 that he first learned about the attacks his son had been experiencing. When he called home from work to check on David on the afternoon of the day in question, he received a message from his baby-sitter that the state police wished to talk with him. According to Mr. Stevens, he first called the school to see what was going on, and Kathy Hughes, director of education, told him that there had been a problem with one student but that David had not been involved. According to Mr. Stevens, he suggested that she go back and get her story straight because the police would not be asking to speak with him if David had not been involved with something. When he reached the police officer, he says he was told that there was evidence that several students, David among them, had been sexually assaulted by a sixteen-year-old student, who in addition to visual impairment and cerebral palsy functioned at the level of a twelve-year-old. The police wanted to talk with David and were prepared to bring an expert in interviewing special needs students about sexual abuse with them to help.
Meantime Mr. Stevens demanded and received a copy of his son's ISVI file. He says that much of the material between the 1984 report and 1990 was missing but that the rest made disturbing reading to a father. He says he discovered that David's recent encounter with the student, Bill, was not the first. According to David's interview with the police, Bill had attacked David three years earlier, holding his head under water in a toilet until he was choking. In David's file there was a report saying that a member of the staff had interrupted an episode in which still another student had apparently taken off David's pants in the rest room and was beginning some activity by kneeling in front of David. In his interview with the police David recounted an experience in which Bill had vomited into David's mouth. His own poignant summary of Bill's behavior toward him was, "Bill sexed me up."
One of the more disturbing aspects of reading David's file, according to Mr. Stevens, was his discovery that there seemed to be blanks. Reports were present of David's hitting other students, but David (according to his father) is normally a very mild, self-effacing boy who does not react with physical violence unless there is some provocation. From talking with David Mr. Stevens is convinced that David's actions were retaliation for sexual attacks, the reports of which have been removed from the file.
As soon as Ron Stevens realized the magnitude of what had happened to his son at ISVI, he reports that he decided to remove him from the school and enroll him in his local district. But word of ISVI's alleged failure to notify him of problems was spreading among other parents. According to Dave Postle (an alumnus of ISVI, a member of the ISVI Advisory Council, and one of the few people whom parents and disaffected ISVI staff members seem to trust), in September of 1994 the President of Illinois Parents of the Visually Impaired (IPVI), the Rev. Kenneth Holtgrieve, called ISVI official Kathy Hughes to say that he thought it would be a good idea for IPVI to move its mailing address from ISVI to a post office box. Ms. Hughes was disturbed, and Mr. Holtgrieve cited the Stevens case as a worry for parents and a reason to distance IPVI from the school. As Mr. Postle and Mr. Stevens report what was next said from conversations they each had with the Rev. Holtgrieve, Ms. Hughes insisted that Ron Stevens had in fact been told of every sexual assault on his son and that he had decided not to do anything about them.
Following this conversation, the Rev. Holtgrieve called Ron Stevens and the mother of the most recent child to be assaulted by Bill and quoted Ms. Hughes to them both. Mr. Postle confirmed the story in phone conversations with both Mr. Stevens and Mrs. A and then talked with Mr. Holtgrieve, who again repeated what Ms. Hughes had said to him in the earlier conversation. In a later conversation with Charles Martin, the acting superintendent of the school, Mr. Holtgrieve, however, apparently denied that he had ever repeated such a statement from Ms. Hughes, according to Mr. Postle, who spoke with Charles Martin about the matter. He says that no one can tell what went on in that last conversation between Martin and Holtgrieve, but at least no one at the school has since made statements to the effect that they have always notified parents of problems in the instances in which the parents maintain that no contacts were made by the school.
At any rate, Ron Stevens and his son continue to pay a price because of what happened to David at ISVI. According to Mr. Stevens he had to sell his business in order to be home to take care of his son during the remainder of the summer and after school during the school year, and his own distress has required professional counseling and medical care. Following the May, 1994, attack, ISVI announced that the school would pay for any counseling that abused students or their parents required; but except for a few counseling sessions that David received in the first weeks after he came home, ISVI has refused to pay for the Stevenses' medical and psychological expenses resulting from a decade of attacks on David at the school.
According to what would seem to be incontrovertible evidence, a truly disturbing incident took place in the small hours of the morning at one of the residential cottages in February of 1988. Thirteen little boys were asleep in their rooms. A residential care worker, John Rhoades, was on duty along with another staff member. Rhoades was the union steward, and, according to several ISVI employees, it was common knowledge that he often did his union work during the day and counted on sleeping while he was on night duty in the cottage. It was ISVI policy that bed checks be made every thirty minutes, but other staff members report that Rhoades had been known to close his door so that the sound of children crying in the night would not disturb him while he was trying to sleep. Such an interruption apparently occurred on the night of February 8, actually sometime between 3:00 and 5:00 on the morning of February 9. The other staff member later admitted to the mother of the child who was hurt that she heard it, but she says she was busy on the floor above and at the other end of the dormitory.
This is as good a place as any to say parenthetically that some time later the then dean of students, David Marshall, told the Braille Monitor that he found Rhoades asleep on the day room couch one night while he was supposed to be on duty. The telephone was ringing in the office when Marshall walked in, and he picked up the instrument, only to hear the warning, "Marshall's on campus." When he awakened Rhoades, the latter acted as if nothing was amiss. According to several sources, Rhoades later apparently embezzled $1,200 from the union, but the books that showed the missing funds were consumed in a rather mysterious car fire in a vehicle owned by his successor as union steward according to Marshall. At about the time the money went missing, several sources close to the situation report, that Rhoades began sporting a new, clearly expensive toupee, and union members expelled him from the organization. True or not, these sources report that at the time it was widely assumed at the school that it was appropriate to draw the obvious connections among all these events.
But let us return to the early morning of February 9, 1988. In one of the rooms were two five-year-olds. One was a child with a history of biting. According to a source close to the situation, there had been some discussion of having the psychologist work with this child to stop biting, but it had not been done. Instead he had been moved to a room with older students, and the biting seemed to have ceased. Now he was back with a roommate of his own age. The other roommate in the little boys' cottage was a child we will call Paul C. Because of an under-developed pituitary gland, Paul is both blind and very small for his age. When he was three, he stopped talking and is now almost completely nonverbal.
In the wake of the events of February 9, Mrs. C says that she felt strongly that school officials had behaved irresponsibly and then succeeded in covering up what happened. She set out to collect the records and photographs of what happened, and in January of 1989 she wrote a comprehensive letter to the Illinois Guardianship and Advocacy Commission, Human Rights Authority, which had finally agreed to investigate what had happened a year earlier. Here is the letter that Mrs. C wrote. Some names and several superfluous references have been omitted. Other references have been retained. They refer to school records Mrs. C enclosed with her letter. Here is the letter:
January 6, 1989
Kathy Eddy/Britta Harris
Illinois Guardianship and Advocacy Commission
Human Rights Authority Staff
This letter concerns my son's injuries
which he sustained while a student at the ISVI and the circumstances surrounding
I want to begin with the day of February 9, 1988. At 4:10 p.m. I received a call from Dennis Kelahan, a case worker at ISVI. He told me Paul had gotten into a scuffle with another student. I asked Mr. Kelahan what had happened. He said Paul was apparently bitten by his roommate. (I didn't even know Paul had a roommate.) He then said Paul had sustained two open wounds, some bruising, and some redness from the bites and that Paul had been seen by Dr. Kelly.
I asked when the incident occurred. Mr. Kelahan said it happened between 3:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. that morning. I then asked who was on duty that night (monitoring the students). The response was a Mr. John Rhoades was on duty. Mr. Kelahan also said that apparently no one had heard Paul cry out when he was attacked. I then said to Mr. Kelahan, "No one heard him cry?" I further asked if, when the situation happened, maybe the school personnel thought Paul was throwing a tantrum and did not go in his room to check on him. Mr. Kelahan said that all he knew was what he had on the paper in front of him (he was not a witness).
I then asked if Paul bit the other child or did anything to upset the other child. Mr. Kelahan said, "No, the other child crawled into bed with Paul and assaulted him." Further, the assault was not discovered until Paul was dressed for school at 6:45 a.m., whereupon the school personnel took Paul to Dr. Kelly. An antibiotic ointment was applied to the open wounds. I asked Mr. Kelahan what the name of Paul's attacker was. I was told that he could not divulge that information, but the offender was removed from Paul's room and would not come into contact with him.
At that time I was upset. I told Mr. Kelahan that my husband would be angry about the situation. I also said I wanted Mr. Kelahan to call me back when my husband got home at 5:15 p.m. that evening. Mr. Kelahan said he would not be in at that time, but would have Eleanor Vieira call. He also said that we were welcome to come up to the ISVI but to call first. He told me Paul seemed to be in no pain or danger at that time. I then informed Mr. Kelahan that I and my other children were ill and had doctor's appointments that week, and since my husband was at work, I didn't think he would want to take off work because he was to be laid off. I then said I would let Mr. Kelahan know but was certain we would be coming to the ISVI on the 26th of February (I believed that was a school break).
Now, if you would look at the copies of paperwork I have sent you, I will explain.
Parent Contact Log, pages 1 and 2, February
This is what Mr. Kelahan had to say about our conversation. I didn't think to ask at that time why it took so long for them to call me--I was home all day.
Page 3: why was "welts are gone"
crossed out? I was not told about welts or scratches.
After talking to Mr. Kelahan on the 9th, I called my husband at work to tell him about Paul.
Mrs. Vieira called at 6:00 p.m. on February 9. My husband listened on one phone while I was conversing with Mrs. Vieira on another phone. She said it was an unfortunate accident that happened to Paul and that the boy who attacked Paul had been moved and would not be in contact with Paul or the smaller boys. She also told us that he was a five-year-old non-verbal blind child who would bite the smaller boys. She said that the school personnel put him back upstairs with the bigger boys.
I asked Mrs. Vieira, if she knew the child was a biter, why did they put him in with Paul? She explained that he had been good about not biting, so they thought he could be put with students his own age. She also said that we were welcome to come to the ISVI, but it was not necessary. She went on to say Paul sustained two open bite marks, bruising, and redness. He seemed to be doing fine, and he was receiving a lot of attention from everyone on the staff. I asked to have Dr. Kelly call me in the morning after he had seen Paul.
I called the ISVI at 10:30 p.m. on February 9 to see how Paul was. The cottage parent said she had him on her lap at that moment and was rocking him, that he seemed to be doing fine. Paul was at that time about to go to sleep. I told her I was very upset about the situation and that I would call back the next day to see how Paul was. Cottage parent log, page 6, shows this call.
Injury report, page 19, shows Mrs. Vieira's
note letting Dr. Kelly know to call us. Under that note is Dr. Kelly's report
of contacting us. Dr. Kelly's conversation with me was short. He said that Paul
had three bites that were open wounds, bruising, and redness but that Paul seemed
to be a lot better that morning. He was in good spirits and was in the doctor's
office at that time. I asked Dr. Kelly how the open bite marks looked to him
and if they were infected. He said they didn't look infected and he was applying
antibiotic ointment three times each day. I then thanked him and asked him to
call me if Paul got worse.
I received a call from Eleanor Vieira at about 10:00 a.m. on February 10. She said Paul was fine and that the doctor had seen him that morning. I told her I had already spoken with Dr. Kelly, and she said Mr. Forney would like to talk to me. I asked who this gentleman was. She said he was her boss. I then told her I would call him. She then tried to connect me to Mr. Forney but could not get through. I then called back to the ISVI and spoke with Mr. Forney. He said he was very sorry for what had happened. He had seen Paul the morning of the biting incident and had just seen him again today. He said Paul seemed to be very happy and was playing.
Wednesday, February 10, 1988
When my husband got home from work, I spoke with him about the phone calls I had with ISVI. I told him that I felt the situation was much worse than they were telling me. He said, "They told you he was okay?" Maybe I was overreacting. My husband said that they (ISVI) had assured me Paul was all right and he is being taken care of, and they said it was just an accident.
I asked my husband why Mr. Forney himself wanted to reassure me that Paul was all right. Why was I told by Dennis and Eleanor that Paul had two open wounds when Dr. Kelly told me Paul had three open wounds? Why did it take so long for the ISVI to call me after the assault? My husband asked me if I felt we should go see Paul. I said yes. We could go on Sunday. He asked if I was going to call the ISVI and let them know we were coming. I said, "Definitely not."
I called the next two days to ask about Paul and how he was. I was told he was doing fine. See parent log, page 7; injury report, page 19; and cottage parent log, page 28, on February 11, 1988. Why wasn't I told about Paul vomiting?
Sunday, February 14, 1988
We went to see Paul. As soon as we walked in, we were approached by a woman whose name is, I think, Joan Fields. I know I would recognize her if I saw her again. We hadn't seen Paul yet, and the woman said to us, "We heard they talked you out of coming."
I said that we were told Paul was just fine. She told us she was there when Paul was found. She said Paul looked like a dog had attacked him. She said she wanted to call us then but was afraid she would lose her job.
As we walked into the office of the dormitory, another woman was there. The first woman looked at the other and said, "You heard Paul crying; tell her."
The second woman said, "Yes, I did hear someone crying at about that time. I can't say if it was Paul--I was upstairs at the other end of the dorm." She then walked out.
My husband went to get Paul when I was in the office. I then went to Paul's room. As soon as I got there, I took off Paul's shirt and T-shirt. What we observed and what the pictures show are totally different from what is listed in the injury report, page 13. Some of the bruising, scratches, welts, and redness had gone by this day. [Five days after the attack.]
Injury Report, page 13
Upper right shoulder, open wound. Upper left shoulder blade, open wound. There are three bruise marks going down the middle of his back. Lower right side of back, open wound. Left elbow bruise and left lower arm one open wound. Right arm is a bruise, right hand open wound. When looking at the pictures, you will see Paul lying on his right arm. His right hand is next to his face. The black mark is the open wound on his right hand. Open wound under left breast. Open wound on right front shoulder. Open wound on right side of stomach. There is still bruising on all open wounds. Other front areas were also bruised.
After looking at Paul, I went to the dorm office and asked for a phone book. The woman who had said she saw Paul that morning asked me why. I wanted to call Mr. Forney. I called him at his home. I told him we were at the dorm with Paul. I also said we were very upset. He said he would be there right away and for us not to leave. While waiting, the woman in the office and I talked more. I told her I was angry and was going to do something about this. She said, "Oh no, you can't do anything to John Rhoades--he is the president of our union." I told her I didn't care who he was. I entrusted my child in his care, and something like this happens. She also told me that she heard they took pictures of Paul.
After telling me something that was of importance to this case, she would imply that I was not to say anything about it or she would lose her job. I walked down to the playroom where my husband had taken Paul. Scott Hungerford told us "that if it were him, he would nail John Rhoades's ass to the wall." He said no one liked Mr. Rhoades anyway. He further stated that Mr. Rhoades would let the students cry in their rooms, sometimes closing the door to the room to deaden the sound of crying. He would do union work during the day, come into the ISVI at night from 12:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and sleep. Mr. Hungerford also said that, if we told anyone this, he would deny it all.
Mr. Hungerford was then called away. My husband and I discussed taking Paul home. On my way to pack Paul's clothes, Mr. Hungerford stopped me to ask if I would know what the red bumps were that another student had all over him. I said that it looked like he had chicken pox or measles.
Mr. Hungerford then made a phone call. I went back to the playroom to tell my husband I didn't think we should take Paul home because one of the students possibly had a communicable disease. Mr. Hungerford returned and informed us that the child's mother (whom he had called) said his sister had chicken pox when he was last home and that it would make sense for him to have them. We decided not to take Paul home that evening.
Mr. Forney came, and we went to Paul's room and closed the door. I took Paul's shirts off and said to Mr. Forney, "You told me you saw my son the morning this happened. You're going to tell me that no one heard him cry?" He said that he was told no one heard him cry.
I then said that one of the women workers just told me she heard a child cry when the assault happened. He asked for the name of the woman. I told him I didn't know her name. I then counted the open bite marks on Paul. I said that I was told by Dennis Kelahan and Eleanor Vieira there were only two wounds, and Dr. Kelly gave me a count of three. I counted nine open bite marks, with a total of thirteen [bite marks] still visible. "How many more were there before we saw Paul?" Mr. Kelahan said he didn't see that many open bite marks on Paul the morning of the assault. I said that "Perhaps they were so swollen you could not tell how deep they were."
He said, "That could be."
I further told Mr. Kelahan I would be calling the Illinois Children and Family Services for an investigation. He said, "We had one." But quickly added that he would start another the first thing in the morning.
My husband and I thanked him for coming. We stayed a little longer with Paul, then went home where I called Mrs. Aldrich (Paul's school teacher). I was told by the woman in the office that Mrs. Aldrich would know if pictures had been taken by the staff at ISVI.
When I spoke with Mrs. Aldrich, she told me she was surprised that I had not been informed of the early morning assault until 4:10 that evening. She thought ISVI called me right after Paul was found. She also said Paul's condition was very bad, and he was in pain. He would lie on the floor, not crying, but moving very slowly when he would stand (very unlike him.) I asked her about any pictures ISVI had taken. She said, "I don't know if there were any pictures." She told me to call Kathy Beckelman [now Hughes], and I received her phone number.
The next morning (February 15) I called a hotline for Children and Family Services. I was finally connected with a worker in this area, Lana West. I told her of Paul's plight. She went to Paul's school that same day.
I had not heard from Lana West for a few days after her visiting ISVI, so I called her to find out what she thought. She told me she had seen Paul and talked with the child care workers on duty the night of the assault. She also said Paul did bite himself on the wrist. I told her maybe, but I didn't think he could have bitten himself on his back, chest, and stomach. I asked her if she had seen ISVI's pictures of Paul. She said, "It looks like he had been bitten." She told me she knew John Rhoades and would entrust her children in his care. She said, "I could not find any neglect on anyone's part," so the case would be closed.
I said, "That's it?" She said she was sorry but that was all she could do.
I was not sure if I could do any more myself, so we let the assault go until this school year (1988-89).
I received a call from another ISVI student's parent asking what I thought of the school. I told her what I thought. Her son and Paul had been classmates at an elementary school in our town. I had never talked with the woman before this. She told me about an incident which happened to her son, and I told her about Paul's assault.
Soon after this conversation I received a letter from Audrey Williams, ISVI PTA President, about overseeing food and nutrition. [See the following article.] I was alarmed at this letter and called Paul's classmate's mother to ask if she had received a copy. She had not, so I made her a copy. I also talked with Mrs. Williams to ask about a scheduled meeting mentioned in the letter. We also talked about the letter itself. (If you have spoken to these two women, you know about this matter.)
By this time we had tried three times to see the ISVI pictures of Paul. The ISVI Health Center, where the pictures were kept, was closed whenever we visited.
We were told about a meeting on November 5, 1988. The woman who told us said we should go and tell the assembled group of our trials and tribulations. (I believe I spoke with you about this meeting.) This meeting didn't seem to be useful for any reason. My husband and I spoke with Mrs. Aldrich. Mrs. Beckelman [Hughes] and Mr. Marshall joined in the conversation. We spoke with Mr. Marshall about some complaints we had made about the terrible odor in the dorms. The smell was a bit less this year because they moved Paul to another dorm. We also told Mr. Marshall of how my husband had walked into Paul's dorm and removed him from the premises without any challenges from the personnel as to who he was.
We found out that Mr. Marshall now has Mr. Forney's job. We also told him how we felt about how Paul's assault was mishandled and how the attempted cover-up failed. He told us they did not try a cover-up and that he was in Dr. Kelly's office during Paul's first post-assault visit. Page 18 of the injury reports shows he was there. He also told us he had taken care of the laxity of the personnel when a student is removed by an outsider--we were to sign in and sign out from now on. We were on our way out of the ISVI with Paul when Mr. Marshall asked a woman in the office for a sign-out sheet. The woman had no idea what he was talking about. After we waited fifteen minutes, a sign-out sheet was discovered and was signed by us. We took Paul out for his break, and upon our return we asked to sign in. To our amazement, our sign-out signature was the only one on the list--no one else had been made to use it, And I know of at least one other student who went home the same day Paul did.
After this we took Paul to the Health Center and asked Nurse Pratt if I could see the pictures of Paul taken after the assault because I had not seen them yet. She seemed to be very busy. She pulled his records; and, as I was standing next to her, I too was looking through the file. She kept saying the pictures were in the file but that she could not find them. She then closed the cabinet and said, "I have to call Mr. Kelahan before I can let you see them." After twenty minutes or so, Mr. Kelahan came in. He said he had to find Mr. Marshall before he could show the pictures to us. I asked what Mr. Marshall had to do with this, and he replied Mr. Marshall knew where the pictures were. After an hour Mr. Marshall came in with the pictures.
After viewing the pictures, I felt sick. Sitting with his arms crossed, leaning back in his chair, Mr. Marshall told us in front of Nurse Pratt that, if there was any kind of cover-up, the pictures could have been destroyed at any time. He also said we could not have them because they were the only ones. We finally went home.
The next day I called Mr. Umsted. I asked for an appointment to see him, no one else. I also told him I wanted to see all of Paul's records and anything else which had my son's name on it. That is how all this information was received. I then spoke with the two other mothers about you [the two women at the Human Rights Authority].
I would like to thank you for taking the time to read what I had to say. I know it is a long letter, but shortening it would be doing the students of ISVI a disservice.
I hope I have made myself clear about how I feel about ISVI and that you can help me, my family, and the ISVI students.
There you have in all of its heart-breaking
eloquence Mrs. C's letter to the Illinois Human Rights Authority. But the investigation
that resulted alleged that it did not reveal any institutional neglect, and
no charges were brought as a result. Some recommendations were, however, made
by the Human Rights Authority in the final report of its so-called Investigation
of the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired, which was released on May
3, 1989. Here are the recommendations as they appeared in
1. The ISVI should establish a procedure
whereby the thirty-minute bed checks made by the Resident Care Workers are documented.
2. A policy and procedure should be written concerning notification of illnesses and injuries to
parents/guardians which includes the time-frame of notification which would include immediate notification of emergency medical treatment.
3. Parents/guardians at the time of their child's enrollment should be provided with a list of the incidents that would warrant their notification. In addition, the parents/guardians should have the opportunity to request notification of incidents not on the list.
This is the lame and anemic list of recommendations which hold themselves out as an answer to the grievous problems outlined. On May 31, 1989, Bill Forney responded to the report in a letter to the Human Rights Authority. He was the school official who, according to his letter, had accompanied the Human Rights Authority investigators on their tour of the ISVI campus. In his letter Mr. Forney expressed his gratitude and gratification that the school had not been found at fault in the attack on Paul C. It is not difficult to understand why. Here in his own words is what Forney had to say about the recommendations made in the report:
Specific to the recommendations:
1. ISVI implemented a formalized thirty-minute bed check system with documentation for overnights.
2. A staff handbook is being developed and will be implemented by the beginning of the 1989-90 school year. It will include written procedures and time frames for parent notification of emergency medical treatment.
3. In conjunction with the staff handbook a parent handbook is being developed. Included in this document will be a listing of incidents warranting parent notification.
Currently, parents have the opportunity
each year at registration to note areas and the manner in which
they would like to be notified, especially in the medical area. This approach will be clarified and expanded for the opening of school this fall.
That is what Bill Forney promised would
happen, and (though in the circumstances it is bland and not commensurate with
the provocations) it sounds responsive. Yet several ISVI employees assured the
Braille Monitor that up to the present time residential care workers
are still not documenting thirty-minute bed checks at night. They say there
is still no way to determine whether staff are even making the checks. Moreover,
the staff and parent handbooks that were so faithfully promised for the fall
of 1989 never materialized, according to our staff sources. Our sources say
that, the promises were made to pacify the Human Rights Authority and in the
hope, one suspects, that no one would come back and check to see if the school
had in fact complied with the recommendations. The gamble paid off, for no one
from HRA has, as far as we can tell, ever returned to ISVI.
Charles Martin, acting ISVI superintendent, has recently declared that by the fall of 1995 the recommendations will be in place as ISVI policy and that the handbooks will actually exist. Who can tell if it will ever be done?
When asked to comment on this episode, Richard Umsted said that, because it had happened so long ago, he could not recall any of the details. Paul C continued to be a student at ISVI for several more years after the attack on him in 1988. The C's were made to feel, they say, that they had blown the February 9 incident out of proportion. After all, the Department of Children and Family Service and the Human Rights Authority both found no basis for the C's feeling that ISVI staff had not provided good care to their son. But in 1993 and 1994 they began to worry again for their son's safety. Mrs. C reports that Paul (in contemporary jargon) began "acting out", especially with men he didn't know. There were staff members at the school with whom he didn't want to be left. Even his teacher expressed concern about a marked change in his behavior in her written evaluation of his progress. Mrs. C says she even entertained the idea that someone might be sexually abusing Paul. But Paul was nonverbal and could not tell her what was upsetting him. When she questioned school personnel, even as late as the spring of 1994 about whether there were any problems with staff or other students molesting students, she was assured that there were no such problems at ISVI. Subsequent events, of course, showed that at that time there were serious problems on the campus. The C's have now withdrawn Paul from ISVI and express delight at how much happier he is in his home town classroom. But Mrs. C is angry at what she characterizes as the lies and cover-ups that school officials engaged in to keep her from knowing what was happening to her son.
During the 1990-91 academic year still another sort of abuse at ISVI came to light. Several sources close to the incident have described it to the Braille Monitor. It seems that a nonverbal, mentally retarded child whom we will call Jim was placed by a residential care worker, Don Miller, on a stationary bicycle in an effort to calm him down after some sort of upset. Miller then left the child alone with three other students. According to David Postle, the students apparently decided to encourage Jim to pedal faster by hitting him: one with a metal pipe, one with a knotted sock stuffed in the toe of a long sock that could be swung with some force, and one with his fists. Eventually Jim fell off the bike, injuring his hip. Miller, who during all this time (according to Postle) had been in his office about twenty feet away, found Jim on the floor but apparently gave no indication that he had heard any disturbance. Nothing official was ever reported about this incident, and the child's mother was not contacted until about two weeks after the attack, Postle said. The three students who had beaten Jim each received three days of detention. The incident would never have come to light at all except that a supervisor noticed that Jim was dragging one leg the next day and looked into the matter.
According to David Marshall, in 1991 he, along with several members of the union went as a delegation representing seventy of the 153 ISVI employees at the time to talk with Department of Rehabilitation Services (DORS) officials about the problems and cover-ups that were disturbing them at ISVI. The DORS personnel--Darian Powell, Dee Showalter, and Marge Olsen--told the group that most of the complaints were coming from disgruntled employees and that everything was really all right at the school, according to Marshall. After that abortive attempt to warn DORS of what was happening at the school, he says his job became intolerable. He had been the only non-union employee to attend the meeting, and eventually (in September, 1991) Marshall was fired. According to him, Mary Kamnick, Director of Residential Services, and Richard Umsted himself were exerting the pressure for dismissal. Marshall is still engaged in a grievance procedure with DORS.
One of the students who was seriously damaged by his experience at ISVI is a fourteen-year-old boy we will call Brian D. According to his mother, Brian was molested by the troubled student Bill in 1992. Mrs. D withdrew Brian from ISVI after that happened, but according to her he has been hospitalized three times in the years since because of the psychological damage he sustained as a result of the attacks on him. Mrs. D is an angry woman. She reports that her son once arrived home from ISVI with a broken collar bone, which no one at the school could explain. Another time Brian came home with several teeth broken off at the gum line, and no one could tell her how the injury had happened. Based on her son's behavior, Mrs. D says she is convinced that adults as well as Bill abused her son while he was a student at ISVI. She explains that her medical advisors have convinced her that when Brian suddenly acts out, he is suffering a flash-back to some painful experience in his past. She says that she is sure that both a man and a woman abused Brian at ISVI because, since he left the school, he has had behavior problems triggered by meeting one woman and several men.
Mrs. D is also angry about the way in which Bill has been treated by ISVI. She says that he is as much a victim of the system as any of the children whom he attacked. She says that ISVI staff members knew he was troubled, but they did nothing to help him. Then, when trouble came that they couldn't cover up, they tossed Bill out without any effort to help him. If parents do unite to take part in a class-action law suit against the school, she says she thinks Bill's family should be part of it, for their son has been damaged by the institution as surely as any other student.
In the spring of 1993 an event occurred on the night of the school banquet which, if it has been accurately reported to us, is indicative of some of the most distressing aspects of the whole unfortunate history of the Umsted years. The primary source for this story is a man who was a residential care worker (RCW) at the time but who was later forced to leave the school under a cloud. (See the article "Beyond the Fall: After-Shocks and Signs of Promise" elsewhere in this issue.) For that reason one might well be skeptical about its authenticity, but the information was provided to us several months before the investigation that led to the man's resignation. Moreover, some of the themes-- administrative eagerness to avoid publicity, institutional prohibition against calling 911, and disappearance of troublesome student reports--remind one of other incidents at the school through the years of the Umsted superintendency.
As Don Miller, the RCW in question, reports what happened, a supervisor and a teacher brought a student, who was clearly ill, back to the cottage where Miller was on duty during the annual banquet. The youngster had eaten shrimp, to which he was highly allergic. Large hives had appeared on the child's body, and he was having some trouble breathing. Miller is a licensed practical nurse, and the others asked him what he thought of the child's condition. He suggested that the boy be taken to the hospital, but the supervisor said that they should put him to bed and see how he was in the morning. The supervisor then returned to the dinner, leaving the teacher and RCW to watch the student. Miller says that the teacher did not seem happy with the decision that had been made, but the child was put to bed, whereupon his breathing became even more obstructed. He seemed to do better sitting up, so he was taken back to the common room, and the teacher then left.
Then, fairly suddenly, things got much worse. The child stopped breathing and his heart stopped beating. Miller says he shouted for help and began cardiopulmonary resuscitation immediately. The child vomited and began breathing again. Without much cardiac compression, his heart began beating again as well. Meantime another RCW came to help. Miller tried to reach someone in authority to get permission to get medical help, but none of the phone numbers he had been given raised anyone. Then one of the students returned to the cottage, and he was sent back to get help. Eventually the duty officer arrived and agreed to drive the child to the hospital while Miller supported him in order to keep the airway open.
As soon as they reached the emergency room, the staff on duty recognized the problem and administered the proper care before eventually admitting the child for observation. Miller says he was told by Dr. Margaret Wilson, the pediatrician substituting for Dr. Kelly, to write a report for DORS and the hospital. She also asked why they had not called 911. The duty officer who had driven Miller and the child to the hospital answered that it was school policy not to make such calls. Miller says that the hospital undoubtedly has a record of this event, but neither his report of the emergency nor any other ever appeared in the ISVI files so far as we can determine.
The final incident we will mention in this summary of disturbing events prior to Bill's attack on Timmy A on May 4, 1994, is Bill's unwanted fondling of a female student in December of 1993. This was one of the episodes cited in the police report that led to Umsted's firing. Reports indicate that Bill and the young woman were alone on an elevator at the end of the school day. The girl was going to her bus when Bill stopped the cage between floors and apparently grappled her out of her wheelchair and onto the floor, where nothing very compromising, so far as we can tell, went on in the short time before a staff member realized that the elevator had been stopped between floors. The staffer called to Bill to start the elevator again,and he did so. So ended the encounter, but the young woman's parents were understandably concerned about the incident.
What is one to make of this collection of charges ranging from the bizarre to the shocking? Did everything happen as reported here? Certainly we have done our best to repeat the details as they were given to us. But as Audrey McCrimon, Director of DORS, said in an interview with the Braille Monitor, in a situation like this people are upset, and when that happens, the axes come out, and all kinds of things get said for various reasons. Richard Umsted said directly that the only way of knowing the truth of what happened to any child at ISVI would be to consult the official school record. As we have seen, a number of these seem to have disappeared, which makes it hard to check facts, even if school personnel were inclined to allow the press to read confidential student files. We have done our best to crosscheck information from our sources, but human nature being what it is, some inaccuracies may well have crept into what we have reported. It is clear that a number of dedicated, compassionate people are employed at the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired, but it is an institution which still has deep problems.
It is comforting to know that even a man who was later forced to leave the school because of allegations of grave misconduct was willing in an emergency to fight to save a child's life as Don Miller says that he did. But the picture that haunts the memory as one tries to sleep at night is a story Paul C's mother told the Monitor reporter in her interview. She said that one winter day her family was coming to pick Paul up. It was very cold and windy, and as they hurried toward the warmth of the dining room, looking for Paul, she noticed a tiny child standing outside the door in a short-sleeved shirt, shivering with cold and crying to be let in. She snatched him up and wrapped her own coat around him in order to give him the benefit of her body heat while she ran into the building. Holding the child tightly, she told a female cafeteria worker that she had found him all alone outside. The woman looked at the child and explained that he had been misbehaving and was sent outside as a punishment. At that moment someone came up behind Mrs. C, she says, and grabbed the child out of her arms and whisked him away before she could even see who had taken him.
Surely no one in authority at ISVI at any time would have condoned such a punishment for a small child. And yet. . . . With the mounting charges and the accumulation of supporting evidence, one has a queasy feeling. In any large facility instances of bad judgment occur with disheartening frequency. But if the future is to be different from the past at ISVI, those in charge must find a way of weeding out cruel or perverted staff members and establishing an atmosphere in which love and trust can flourish. Despite the truth or falsity of this or that detail the broad picture of abuse, neglect, incompetence, and bad judgment at ISVI seems overwhelming and irrefutable. This is a state school for the blind and visually impaired--and the state cannot duck its responsibilities, but neither can the public or the press--and for that matter neither can we who are blind or who are professionals in the blindness field. This school is our school; these children are our children; and this responsibility is our responsibility. What are we prepared to do about it?
[Photo #3 A large brick building with
over fifteen concrete columns as part of the front facade. Caption: The ISVI
FOOD FOR THOUGHT BUT NOT FOR CONSUMPTION AT ISVI
From the Editor: As we have already seen, early in the 1988-89 academic year ISVI parents had a number of things to worry about. Audrey Williams, the newly elected president of the PTA, brought one of them to the attention of the organization's members by writing each of them a letter. Apparently it had come to her attention that problems had developed in storing and preparing food in the ISVI kitchen. The Department of Public Health had not conducted an inspection of the facility in eight years, according to Mrs. Williams, and the resulting laxity in food storage and preparation and in meal planning was deeply disturbing to those who learned about it. Here is the letter she sent to ISVI parents followed by the one she wrote at the same time to the Director of the Department of Rehabilitation Services (DORS):
September 13, 1988
The school year is well underway, and there is much to do. I was disappointed at this year's turnout at the PTA meeting. Officers were elected, and they are as follows: Audrey Williams, President; Beverly McFarland, Vice President; and Jeanne Stevens, Secretary/Treasurer.
In order to improve conditions, the PTA needs the support and cooperation of all parents. You do make the difference. A problem concerning the food that our children are being served has come to my attention, and I have scheduled a meeting with Mr. Bradley, Director of DORS, for Friday, September 30, 1988, at 2:00 p.m. in Springfield.
If at all possible, I encourage you to try and attend this meeting. I am enclosing a copy of the letter submitted to Mr. Bradley. Please feel free to call me or any of the other officers at any time.
Audrey L. Williams
September 13, 1988
Mr. Phillip C. Bradley
Director, Department of Rehabilitation Services
This letter will confirm a conversation that I had with your assistant, Ms. Shara Saline, on September 12, 1988, regarding the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired. It is my understanding that Ms. Saline did share the concerns that I expressed to her with you.
As president of the PTA of ISVI, it has come to my attention that there are several unacceptable practices occurring at ISVI in regard to nutrition. I have recently become aware of instances where the children were served cereal with bugs in it, potatoes with worms, and spoiled meats. It is difficult to believe that the Superintendent is unaware of such practices, and if he is aware of them, then certainly immediate action is required, for not acting, in essence, condones the situation. Other stories concerning practices of poor sanitation involving food preparation and storage also indicate the need for immediate investigation and attention.
As I am sure that you are aware, food poisoning (Salmonella and Lysteria, to mention a few) can be fatal. Enclosed is an article regarding food safety.
We the parents feel that the following changes should be implemented:
1. Staff should be strongly encouraged to eat what our children are served, as we are sure that the quality and sanitation would improve two hundred percent.
2. We want periodic, annual, impromptu inspections by the Department of Public Health. (We also would like dates of the last inspection.)
3. A varied menu. How is the menu determined? Is there a master menu for the State? Liver with onions, rice, cheese sticks, and carrot sticks is hardly an appealing combination. On Sunday, September 11, the dinner menu was bologna sandwiches, carrot sticks, and grapes.
4. Condiments, such as jelly, should be offered more than one time per week.
5. More fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables and less canned.
6. More selection for children on special diets.
As this is a residential school, it does not seem unreasonable to expect that the children be served meals that are attractive, appealing, and nutritionally balanced. Our children should not have to go to bed hungry because the food is unfit or tainted. We hope that this matter will be investigated promptly as we will take any legal action necessary to rectify this problem as well as contact our legislators to protect our children.
Audrey L. Williams
That was the mailing received by ISVI parents in mid-September, 1988, and the letter the director of DORS received as well. One can imagine the consternation at the school when the existence of this correspondence was discovered. Richard Umsted swung into action. He scheduled a meeting with Mrs. Williams and wrote his own letter to parents. Here is his letter:
September 22, 1988
Earlier this week it came to my attention that you received a letter expressing various concerns about the quality of dietary services at the ISVI. Believing you should know the facts of the situation and wanting you to be confident in the overall program of the school, I am writing to share the following information:
1. Dietary and residential care staff
at the school are served the very same menu as the students.
2. Evaluations by the National Accreditation Council [NAC] and the North Central Association include inspections of the Dietary Department. [We interrupt the Umsted letter to say that as far as we can tell from looking at the NAC standards for residential schools, there were no established NAC standards for food service areas in 1988--but back to the Umsted letter.] In addition, the Illinois Department of Public Health will be invited to make an inspection. The philosophy and practice of the ISVI is to welcome inspections by Illinois State Board of Education, the Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSHA), and everyone else to ensure quality programs and services at our school.
3. The menu for the school is established in compliance with the most recent State master menu.
4. The school serves only Grade A government-inspected meat. Anyone can unknowingly bring products home from the store that have bugs or worms in them. Given the large quantities of food products purchased by the school, this can also happen at the ISVI. If there is any problem with a product, it is immediately returned, disposed of, or otherwise handled in an appropriate manner. An inspector from the Illinois Department of Central Management Services visits the Dietary quarterly.
5. Members of the ISVI Advisory Council eat at the school several times a year as do other dignitaries and guests. They are served the same menu as the students.
6. Parents of prospective students and their local school representatives are invited to eat lunch at the school, and many do with positive comments.
7. Recognizing that improved dry storage and freezer facilities are needed at the school, the Illinois Department of Rehabilitation Services has worked very hard to obtain the necessary approval and budget for the construction of a new storage and freezer facility, which is scheduled for next year.
The Illinois School for the Visually
Impaired, Department of Rehabilitation Services, and State of Illinois are committed
to providing the best possible school for visually impaired students. This includes
the dietary and all other services.
As the Superintendent of the ISVI, I invite all parents and concerned citizens to visit the school and personally see the quality of programs offered. As a parent you are also invited to have lunch with us as a guest of the school.
Thank you for your support, and if you have any questions or response you would like to share, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Richard G. Umsted, Ed.D.
cc: Director Bradley
That is what Richard Umsted said to
ISVI parents, and it is a model of restraint and rationality--though one suspects
he knew full well that his mention of the two accrediting bodies as proof of
ISVI's high standards was largely a smokescreen. One of them (the North Central
Association) concentrates its attention on elements of residential school activity
more closely associated with program delivery than food preparation. As to the
other (the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and
Visually Handicapped--NAC) its accreditation is widely recognized as nothing more than a bad joke. Most of the residential schools for the blind in the United States won't permit their names to be associated with NAC (see article elsewhere in this issue), and many of those that do only use NAC as a shield for their questionable practices.
Be that as it may, the minutes of the school's administrative council for the meeting that took place on
September 29, 1988 reflect Umsted's real feelings, his irritation at the problem Mrs. Williams and her concerns constituted for him, as well as the atmosphere of distrust and intimidation that, according to many members of the ISVI staff, permeated the school during the Umsted administration. Notice the open suspicion of certain unidentified staff members and the veiled threat that they would be better off working somewhere else. Here in pertinent part are the minutes of the September 29 Council meeting:
September 29, 1988
Present: Dr. Umsted, Ms. Beckelman [now Hughes], Mrs. Cole, Mr. Dobbs, Mrs. Ford, Mr. Forney, Mr. Hauck, Mrs. Hipkins, Mr. Jackson, Mr. Jacoby, Mrs. Schneider, Mrs. Vieira, Mrs. Williams, Mrs. Wood.
Dr. Umsted said that by now supervisors
had heard about the letter which Mrs. Audrey Williams, President of the Parent
Association, sent to all parents. Last week upon becoming aware of it Dr. Umsted
immediately wrote a response for the parents to allay concerns they might have
but was requested by Springfield to not send the letter at that time until a
meeting was held with Mrs. Williams. Last Friday afternoon Dr. Umsted spent
three hours with her, which he thought was a good meeting. Then Monday morning
there was a three-page letter from her acknowledging what she understood to
be the responses or resolutions to questions and concerns discussed. We then
received a call from Springfield acknowledging we could send out the letter,
and Dr. Umsted wrote another letter to go with it. Dr. Umsted shared these letters
with supervisors so they would know what is going on. The contents of the letters
are to be shared with staff, retained, and read by supervisors. There is no
reason for the letters to be duplicated any more either.
Dr. Umsted requested the names of all parents who have contacted any staff member with concerns about Mrs. Williams's letter as he has begun making personal telephone calls. [thirteen parent names listed]
. . . In Dr. Umsted's meeting with Mrs. Williams on Friday, Ms. Beckelman [Hughes] sat in on part of it. Jeff Radcliffe also attended relative to storekeeping procedures and the ordering of foodstuffs. Mrs. Williams appeared to be caught right in the middle of something. Some staff members had shared some erroneous information and may have done so on their own, intending damage to other staff members, such as Mrs. Cole and Dr. Umsted. If any supervisors have any ideas as to who in fact is spreading lies, we need to know.
. . . There was never any suggestion of a cover-up in terms of cereal with bugs. We admitted this had happened and the cereal properly disposed of. Individuals who initially called said they have that happen at home. Mrs. Williams doesn't think we are serving enough sausage or bacon. The menu was another concern to her. In one particular week it had been changed almost every day. Once we explained that, because of being short a cook or because an item had not been received, certain menus might have to be changed. Another suggestion was to use plastic gloves for people on the serving line. We have provided a new supply to Mrs. Cole, but they are not required by Public Health. Another question was the shelf life of products. The majority of things we use have a shelf life of several months that would surprise most lay people. Howard Rogers, storekeeper, will be rechecking all items on hand.
. . . Any concerns or questions anyone has, they should let Dr. Umsted know. His philosophy for those people spreading untruths is to consider whether they would be happier working elsewhere and take immediate action accordingly.
Despite Richard Umsted's attempt to explain away Mrs. Williams's concerns about the quality of the food and the food preparation at the school, the Illinois Department of Public Health came to the school to make its first inspection in eight years on October 6, 1988. Such on-site visits are bound to uncover some violations, particularly if they are not expected. In this case, however, the food-service personnel must surely have suspected that an inspection was in the cards, given the amount of parental concern that had recently been expressed in high places. Some of the problems the inspectors found were clearly due to old or poorly functioning equipment and work space. There is some indication that following this entire brouhaha the legislature allocated funds to upgrade the food-service facilities at ISVI, though observers report that there has not been a noticeable improvement in the quality of meals and meal preparation in the intervening years. The state official now responsible for making such arrangements, however, does report that, as far as he can remember, DORS has requested annual inspections of the food service area at ISVI every year since 1988. Following is a list of the infractions found in the food service area at ISVI. They range in seriousness from the relatively petty--pest-control products stored with cleaning materials--to the extremely serious--poorly stored, moderately warm ground meat and contaminated sugar and canned goods. We have omitted explanatory material following some of the entries. Here is the text of the survey:
Survey by the Illinois Department of
October 6, 1988
Lisa E. Sondag and Lesley R. Stevens
conducted the survey, which included interviews with Dr. Richard Umsted, Superintendent;
Mr. Jeff Radcliffe, Business Administrator; and Mrs. Lois Cole, Dietary Manager.
At the request of the Illinois Department of Rehabilitation Services, an Environmental Health and Safety survey was conducted of the Food Service Department of the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired on October 6, 1988.
The school currently has 115 students.
Meals are served seven days per week (three times a day).
The following are conditions and violations observed during the October 6, 1988 survey. Violations cited are from the 1988 edition of the Illinois Food Service Sanitation Rules and Regulations.
1. Three bulging cans of chili sauce
were found within the small storage room near the kitchen.
2. A small live worm was observed on top of white granulated sugar in a bulk sugar bin located under the baker's table in the bakery.
3. Chocolate frosting mix in a wet and discolored absorbent paper package was observed on a shelf in the walk-in cooler in the bakery.
4. Food in the walk-in freezer was not protected from overhead leakage.
5. Two large pans of freshly prepared
meat loaf were found in the walk-in refrigerator near the bakery. The internal
temperature of the meat loaf was 50 degrees at 12:20 p.m. and at 1:10 p.m. .
6. Numerous flies were observed in the dining room of the facility during the survey. Uncovered bowls of sliced pineapple were found within the dining room prior to lunch service. Foods must be protected from contamination at all times. Measures to inhibit the presence of insects and rodents should be utilized, which include, but are not limited to, the following:
a) The dumpster, outside the rear door to the kitchen was not stored on or above a smooth surface of
non-absorbent material. . . . This dumpster should be stored on a machine-laid asphalt or concrete surface to provide for easy cleaning.
b) The dumpster was open at the time of the survey. . . . The dumpster should be stored away from the rear kitchen door, should be maintained in a clean condition, and should be covered at all times.
c) The threshold of the rear kitchen door was in poor repair, providing an entry way for insects and rodents.
7. A can of Claire Brand Down and Out Flying and Crawling Insect Killer was found stored with cleaning compounds normally used in Dietary. All pesticides must be stored physically separate from all cleaning compounds, food, and food-contact surfaces.
8. A large block of dark green rodent bait was found on the floor and behind the ductwork of the storeroom near the kitchen. All poisonous compounds used within a food service establishment must be properly labeled.
9. The concentration of the available chlorine in the sanitizing solution used to sanitize dishes in the dishwashing room was in excess of the 200 parts per million permitted under 21 CFR 178.1010. (F.S.750.820g).
10. The procedure for manual washing, rinsing, and sanitizing of equipment and utensils in the pot and pan three-compartment sink was not conducted in the correct sequence. The employee observed on 10/6/88, reported that approximately one tablespoon of bleach was added to the soapy wash water. She then rinsed the equipment and utensils in the middle sink and drained them in the third sink. All utensils must be washed, rinsed, and sanitized.
11. An employee was observed towel drying knives and pans. A Waring blender was stored wet with food debris in a nonself-draining position with the lid in place. Utensils must be air dried before being stored or stored in a self-draining position.
12. The dishwashing machine was not maintained in good repair. The rinse cycle was reported to not be working correctly. The rinse gauge did not move from 140 degrees during the various cycles of the machine. The dishwashing machine should be repaired, and the rinse gauge should be observed for proper operation.
13. The blade of the can opener located near the three-compartment sink, was soiled with food debris.
14. A large wood rolling pin on the baker's
table was observed with a crack in the food-contact surface.
15. Dispensing utensils (scoops) were stored in bulk foods with the handles covered with or touching the food. This was observed in the kitchen in several bulk bins.
16. Non-food-contact surfaces were not smooth, non-absorbent, or in such repair as to be easily maintained in a clean and sanitary condition.
17. The paint on the proof box in the bakery is in very poor condition.
18. Employees were not all wearing effective hair restraints in the kitchen on 10/6/88.
19. A test kit to measure the concentration of chemical sanitizing solutions was not available.
20. There were no thermometers available for the milk coolers located in the dining room.
21. A pair of employee's eye glasses were noted on the meat slicer, and an employee's drinking glass was next to several uncovered bowls of pineapple. Employees may consume food only in designated areas.
22. In the dry storage area, food items are stored beneath sewer lines.
23. The walls of the dry storage area were found to be excessively peeling. Wall surfaces should be smooth and easily cleanable.
24. An active leak was observed in the ceiling of the pipe chase between the employees' rest rooms in the basement. The area within this pipe chase had an accumulation of debris and water.
1. The temperature of the hot water at the hand sinks located within the students' rest rooms in the dining area measured 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot water temperatures at student-access locations should not exceed 120 degrees.
2. The chemical storage closets near the dining room were open and easily accessible to the students. It is recommended that these doors be closed and locked to insure the safety of the students.
3. The soiled and clean linen tubs used in the dining area were not labeled and easily identifiable. These containers should be labeled and kept clean at all times.
That is what the Department of Public Health found, and if Richard Umsted thought everyone was now satisfied, he was certainly mistaken. After all the excitement and upset of the fall, Audrey Williams decided that ISVI was no longer the right placement for her child; so, because she was no longer an ISVI parent, she resigned as president of the ISVI PTA. Early in the new year (1989) she wrote one last letter to the ISVI parents and enclosed the report she was sending at the same time to the Director of DORS. Here are both documents:
January 15, 1989
I wish to take this opportunity to thank those of you who supported the PTA's concerns regarding the dietary issues at ISVI in September. I believe that it was your support that caused immediate action and investigation to be undertaken.
An inspection was done in October by the Department of Public Health, and twenty-four violations were found, and three additional recommendations were made.
You can obtain a copy of this report by contacting DORS or ISVI in writing.
Enclosed you will find a copy of my recommendations addressed to Mr. Bradley, Director of DORS.
Please stay involved, because you do make the difference. As my son no longer attends ISVI, please contact your officers for future concerns.
Audrey L. Williams
January 15, 1989
Phillip C. Bradley
Director, Department of Rehabilitation Services
Dear Mr. Bradley:
You may recall a letter written to you dated September 13, 1988, in which I stated that there were several unacceptable practices involving ISVI in regard to poor sanitation, food handling, and nutrition. I requested on behalf of the PTA that an investigation be done and immediate action be taken. Below is a summary of events that transpired after the September 13 letter.
Meeting with Dr. Umsted concerning these concerns. Kathy Beckelman [Hughes], Mr. Radcliffe in attendance. Meeting lasted in excess of three hours. Dr. Umsted suggested that my allegations were unfounded. Some expressed concern that a member or members of ISVI were trying to sabotage the school or the dietary manager. Dr. Umsted expressed that he held Mrs. Lois Cole in his highest esteem. Dr. Umsted was confident that he could reassure parents that ISVI students are provided with well-balanced meals in a sanitary environment. His concern was with reaching those parents who may have
heard of my letter but whose children do not attend ISVI. Dr. Umsted invited any concerned parent to eat at ISVI as well as inviting me to tour the storage room.
After visiting the storage room, to my surprise, I found several expired canned goods and spices. Some dated as far back as 1978. After talking with the storekeeper, it was revealed that 1) If the dietary staff requested the item, he would issue it and tell them to "look at it" because it is old. 2) That he did not have a copy of the storekeeper's manual, which determines the shelf life of food. His estimation was eighteen months for the shelf life of most canned goods. 3) He could discard expired goods but would be required to fill out a form indicating what happened to the goods. Discussed with Mr. Radcliffe that warning dietary staff to "look at old foods" was unacceptable, and I was assured that the storekeeper would be provided with appropriate manual and expired foods would be discarded.
September 27, 1988
I received a letter from Dr. Umsted acknowledging that Mr. Radcliffe did share a copy of the storekeeper's manual with him and that the storekeeper would be reviewing the manual for compliance with established standards and practices.
In the same letter Dr. Umsted acknowledges a September 26 incident where more cereal and bad rice were found and discarded.
October 2, 1988
I met with Lynn Dohtery concerning these issues and trying to better understand budgetary cutbacks affecting ISVI. Lynn verbalized that she held Dr. Umsted and ISVI in her highest esteem. Evaluations done by the National Accreditation Council every four years included Dietary. (Dr. Umsted is part of the committee.) Budgetary cutbacks are the primary reason for why the Department of Public Health has not been out to do inspections.
This all brings me to several questions:
On October 6, 1988, an inspection was done by the Department of Public Health
in which twenty-four violations plus three additional recommendations were made.
(Again a live worm was found in the bulk sugar. I received a copy of this inspection
on December 15, even though it was requested much earlier.)
1. Why, Mr. Bradley, did the Department of Public Health cite twenty-four violations if my allegations were unfounded?
2. Why has it been eight years since
an inspection has been done by the Department of Public Health? After speaking
with Lisa Sondag, Supervisor of Environmental Health and Safety Section, she
informed me that while there have been budgetary cutbacks, if DORS had requested
an inspection, then the inspection would have been done. Why has an inspection
not been done in eight years?
3. Who, Mr. Bradley, is responsible for overseeing these crucial dietary matters?
4. What are the qualifications needed for assuming this responsibility if being a registered dietitian is not one of them?
5. If Dietary is an area that the National Accreditation Council and North Central Association inspections cover every four years, what are they actually inspecting?
6. If the dietary manager is not responsible for enforcing compliance standards set by the State of Illinois, then who, Mr. Bradley, is responsible?
As one parent so eloquently put it, "To deliberately jeopardize the health of our children is despicable. The responsible person should be dismissed and all privileges as a state employee be terminated." Not only is it despicable, Mr. Bradley, but it is a violation of our children's civil rights, and that is a criminal offense.
As you may be aware, I have taken my child out of ISVI, and need I remind you that there is only an ISVI because of our children? This incident has been an unnecessary violation of my trust and is a crime if my child or any other child suffers educationally because of this incident or other unrelated incidents occurring at ISVI that may require further investigation.
I think some answers are in order.
That is what Mrs. Williams wrote to Dr. Umsted's superiors, and answers certainly were in order. But no one has yet provided them. And with Mrs. Williams conveniently out of the way, the pressure for doing so seems to have disappeared. Institutional food will always have its critics. Food service personnel will always try to cut corners when they are in a hurry or short of funds or convinced that no one is holding them accountable. Yet, none of these explanations is sufficient to account for the cumulative problems and abuses. Now that a new era may possibly be opening at the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired, let us hope that a new chapter will also be opening concerning the food service.
[Photo #4 A park-like area in front of a large brick two-story building with many windows. Caption: A classroom building on the ISVI campus]
AFTER-SHOCKS AND SIGNS OF PROMISE
by Barbara Pierce
After reading the preceding stories,
it is reasonable to ask what has happened in the months since Richard Umsted's
firing from his job as superintendent of the Illinois School for the Visually
Impaired (ISVI) on August 23, 1994. Charlie Martin, Umsted's boss during his
final year and a half as superintendent, was asked temporarily to leave his
post as director of educational services at the Illinois Department of Rehabilitation
Services (DORS) and to serve as acting superintendent at ISVI until a search
could be conducted for Umsted's permanent replacement. By most accounts Martin
is an affable man with a hands-on style of administering programs. For example,
he gave the Braille Monitor reporter a personal tour of the campus and
talked knowledgeably about the institution. It was clear from his interactions
with the students and staff during this tour that he knew everyone and called
each by name. The students were watching a videotape of a recent talent show
in which Martin had performed along with the students.
From the start Martin let it be known that his door was open and that he intended for things to change. On the very day of Umsted's firing Audrey McCrimon, DORS director, contacted the parents of ISVI students from the year before to tell them something of what had happened and assure them that every effort would be made to see that their children were safe. Here is the text of the letter that was sent:
August 23, 1994
Dear Parent or Guardian,
Earlier this summer I promised I would keep you apprised of the developments of the Illinois State Police (ISP) investigation of student-to-student sexual conduct at the ISVI.
I have received an interim report from the Illinois State Police; and, based on the information uncovered by both the ISP investigation and DORS internal investigation, I have terminated Dr. Richard Umsted as superintendent of ISVI effective August 23, 1994.
So that you can fully understand the facts of the situation and the basis for my decision, I have enclosed a copy of DORS' news release on the matter. I'm sure upon reading it you will agree that, given the severity of the situation, any lesser action would have been a betrayal of the trust I believe you and your children have placed in the Department of Rehabilitation Services and the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired.
To ensure that no such situation is ever permitted to occur at ISVI again, the start of this school year will bring increased sexual abuse education to both ISVI students and staff as well as a new policy of reporting unusual incidents. Additionally, as you are aware, the family style living arrangement previously utilized in the dorms will be discontinued.
If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact Acting Superintendent Charles Martin at 217-479-4401.
Audrey L. McCrimon
Ninety families had sufficient faith
in what they read and heard to send their youngsters back for the '94-95 school
year. According to school officials, the student mix is 55 percent cognitively
impaired, developmentally delayed, or mentally retarded and 45 percent with
behavioral or emotional disabilities. All students are either blind or visually
impaired, although vision loss may not be the primary disability. A staff of
145 works with the students on a twelve-acre campus, bordered on two sides by
railroad tracks but containing a number of winding walks and rustic benches
from which to enjoy the lawns. Several of the buildings are in poor repair,
and anticipation of the changes the new independent living center will bring
seems to be universal.
Preparations were made for a new beginning with eagerness to put the past behind everyone still associated with ISVI, but the beginning of the school year was not without incident. On Friday, August 19, 1994, the secretary in the business office and Polly Williams, who had earlier replaced Mary Kamnick as director of residential services, had occasion to enter Kamnick's old office in search of something. They found a file drawer filled with an undetermined amount of cash, some in envelopes and some in banded rolls of bills. By some reports this was money kept on hand to purchase items for needy students; Richard Umsted told the Braille Monitor it was probably the funds for the independent living program. But the school has established very strict procedures for dealing both with cash coming in and money needed for payments of various kinds. David Postle, the outspoken school advocate and member of the ISVI Advisory Council, says that, as far as he has ever known, cash has not been left lying around at ISVI. Reportedly the two women immediately notified Martin of their find, and he locked the drawer and the office for the weekend.
Sunday, August 21, was the day the students returned to campus, so the weekend was filled with confusion. Sunday afternoon one member of the staff says that he looked across campus and noticed Mary Kamnick. He commented at the time that he wondered what she was doing at school when she had been relocated and instructed to stay away from the campus. When the door was unlocked, the cash had reportedly vanished. According to one observer, no one seemed to know what had happened to it or appeared to be much upset at its disappearance.
When the students arrived on campus there was a flurry of trouble with the arrival of two pellet guns as well. There was also one of those extremely realistic toy guns that are now popular with children. This last had made its first appearance on campus the previous academic year and had been sent home. The high school student who owned it returned with it again in the fall, and it and the two pellet guns were confiscated and the three students given five-day suspensions.
Sources also tell us that early in the school year several boys were identified as having committed phone fraud in the amount of $1,400, using third-party billing on phone cards. The telephone company insisted that the parents pay back the money, and each student was given a three-day suspension.
The one student who was implicated in both of these activities was also involved in an incident that occurred in January of 1995. According to sources close to the situation, the student and a young female house parent, whose marriage was reportedly in trouble, were found by several other staff members inappropriately fondling each other. The employee lost her job immediately, though because she was not given a chance to confront her accusers, as the regulations governing employment at the school required, she may in fact eventually be reinstated.
In today's environment of heightened awareness of what is and is not appropriate sexual behavior between colleagues and between those holding unequal positions in organizations of all kinds, such conduct between an employee and a minor is clearly seriously inappropriate. But a situation has come to light at ISVI this year that is considerably more problematic since it involves the ongoing conduct of a member of the faculty with at least five female staff members and present and past students, all of whom say they were unwilling objects of his physical gestures.
David Hauck is the director of the computer lab and Student Transition Employment Program at ISVI. He is a blind man whom Umsted hired away from the Hadley School for the Blind, according to sources at ISVI. In some quarters at ISVI there is significant skepticism about Hauck's competence as a teacher of computer skills. Several people with reason to know commented that, not only was Hauck unlikely to give good information about computer matters, but upon occasion has actually compounded the problem with his advice. A temporary employee who worked for two months as his assistant and whom we will call Ms. E said in passing, and with some embarrassment, that it became obvious to her early on in their association that she knew much more about computers than he did.
During the current academic year several women have begun to speak cautiously of the problems they have had with this teacher. Several sighted female colleagues have reported that, when they have been acting as sighted guides for him off campus, he has grasped their arms in such a way as to bring his hand or forearm in contact with a breast. He has also been known to bump into certain students and staff members in the hall, apparently because of his blindness, but they are convinced that it is really with the intention of making as much physical contact as possible. People have noticed that he is much less likely to bump into men than women. Until told firmly not to touch them, he has also reportedly run his hands uninvited through several women's hair and put his arm around them when the contact clearly made them uncomfortable. One woman, who had the courage and self- possession to tell him firmly to stop such invasions of her person, told the Braille Monitor that the rebuke acted as only a temporary restraint on his behavior.
When asked by the Braille Monitor in a telephone interview to comment on these allegations, Hauck seemed almost speechless. He denied ever engaging in any sexually harassing behavior toward anyone and demanded several times why he was even being asked such questions. Nevertheless, the questions should not have been quite the bolt from the blue that his response might have suggested since, according to Ms. E, he had told her in February that sexual harassment charges were then being brought against him because of problems with a female student. In fact, as this issue went to press in mid-April, a spokeswoman for DORS told the Braille Monitor that the decision has now been made to conduct an internal DORS investigation of the allegations of harassment made by women staff, alumnae, and students against David Hauck.
In addition to these accusations, Hauck
was accused by Ms. E of other kinds of harassment. When she began working with
him, he demanded her unlisted phone number so that, according to her, in an
emergency--like not being able to find a file on a disc she had prepared for
him during the day--he would be able to reach her at home. Knowing nothing about
blindness and the competence of blind people at the time, she assumed that this
might be a legitimate problem for a blind person, so she gave him her
number. She says he then began calling her home so frequently-- sometimes three
or four times a night--that her young son began asking who that man was and
why he kept calling.
When Ms. E talked with the temping service that had supplied her services to the school about the problems she was having with Hauck, her supervisor called the school to discuss the situation with Hauck's supervisor. Almost immediately, she says, Hauck came to her to criticize her for complaining. Whenever her difficulties reached his ears by any route, she says, he took his anger out on her. Moreover, she says, he made every effort to prevent her from having any contact with the other female employees who had had trouble with him in the past.
According to Ms. E on a number of occasions Hauck did not appear when his students arrived for class, and Ms. E says she was expected to supervise the youngsters until his return. This was not listed as part of her job responsibilities, even though she says she was equipped to carry out the task. But she believed that, if she was to do this kind of work on top of her other duties, she should have been paid accordingly. She says that all she got for her inquiries about the matter was more recriminations from Hauck. Finally, Ms. E reports that she was forced to terminate her association with the school.
The most recent event which we will discuss in this series of what Audrey McCrimon, Director of DORS, characterized as "after-shocks" of the Umsted investigation occurred in February when a Department of Children and Family Services investigator was called to the ISVI campus to look into the activities of one of the house parents, Don Miller, the brother-in-law of Nancy Ford, a house parent supervisor. Miller is a licensed practical nurse who, according to sources close to the school, suddenly left his employment at a local hospital and found a place at ISVI almost immediately. Not many details of the DCFS investigation are known, but on February 23, 1995 several staff members were closely questioned about Miller's conduct with the boys in his care, and on February 25 he was allowed to resign from ISVI. Those close to the situation report that as many as five young, non-verbal boys may well have been sexually abused by Miller.
It is clearly a distressing subject for all concerned, and several of the parents involved say that they are angry because they were not told what had been discovered as soon as it was known on campus. Their distrust of the ISVI and its senior administration is now towering, and they are prepared to condemn Charlie Martin for this lapse as thoroughly as Richard Umsted for all the troubles that went before. Whatever the extent of the abuse and wherever the rights and wrongs in the situation lie, this entire cluster of allegations has compounded the difficulties for those who hope to rebuild public faith in ISVI.
Foremost in this group is Charles Martin. One source described him as "a bureaucrat with a conscience, but still a bureaucrat." He seems to be working hard to change the way things are done at ISVI and the way in which they are seen to be done, but his task would undoubtedly be considerably easier if he could manage his senior staff with firmness and still get help from them.
For example, when Ms. E concluded that she had taken all she could and gave notice that she was leaving her position as David Hauck's assistant, she had just suffered a nasty fall in the hall at the school. She says that she felt her foot slip on something wet, and in fact she and another person went back the following day to look at the place where the accident had occurred and could actually see the spots where something had dried on the floor. But as soon as Kathy Hughes, director of education, heard the fall, Ms. E says she rushed out of her office into the hall and announced loudly that she couldn't see anything on the floor that might have caused the accident. No one in authority offered to assist Ms. E or instructed anyone to accompany her, so Ms. E drove herself to the hospital for medical attention for what was first identified as a sprain but later turned out to be a fracture. She returned to the school after a long ordeal at the hospital emergency room and completed some work that had to be done, even though she was in an air cast and using crutches. She was back at school the next day, on strong medication for pain, and it was then that she says she finally realized that she had had enough. She says that Hauck insisted that she do errands for him that would take her across campus despite doctor's orders that she stay off the injured foot for seventy-two hours.
On her way out of Charlie Martin's office, she says she had a brief conversation with another female member of the staff who told her that Tom Norris, the ISVI Business Manager, had decided that she should not be paid for the time she had spent the day before in the emergency room. Ms. E says she told her that it didn't really matter because she was leaving. At that Ms. E says the woman looked up at her and said with tears in her eyes, "That means they've won again." Ms. E acknowledged that she simply couldn't take any more, so she agreed that they had indeed won again.
According to Ms. E, a member of the staff went to Charlie Martin and told him about Norris's decision. To his credit, when Martin heard that, he immediately reversed the decision and has also insisted that Ms. E send all her medical bills connected with the fall to the school for payment. But Ms. E freely admits that the impression left on her by Kathy Hughes and Tom Norris was that their job was to protect the school from any appearance of responsibility for the accident.
An even more disconcerting instance of the differences between Martin's attitudes and those of other senior members of his staff occurred quite recently. A meeting of house parents was called by DORS official Dee Showalter for March 30. Several staff members reported that rumor had it that the group was to be dressed down because some house parents had spoken with the Braille Monitor. Throughout the week Bill Forney, director of student services, was reported to have said repeatedly in the hearing of people who quoted him to David Postle that he intended to see that anyone who had spoken to the Monitor was fired. Postle reports that the tension among the house parents was extremely high as that Thursday and its meeting approached.
But when the meeting came, it could hardly have been more different from what the staff had anticipated. According to reports of several who attended, a new DORS investigator was introduced, and the house parents were told about a special phone line that would be in place for two weeks for their express use to report anything they could remember from the past that they thought should be investigated. Showalter told them that without the help of the ISVI employees DORS could not hope to put the past to rest and begin afresh. She said that she would be meeting with the other ISVI employees in other gatherings, and she trusted that they would all do their best to assist DORS officials in starting over.
Postle says that there is still a healthy amount of skepticism among ISVI staff because many still remember the effort in 1991 to warn DORS of trouble at the school and the way in which the employees were brushed off. But in general people seem to be willing to give DORS officials another chance to do what needs to be done. If the reports of Forney's threats are accurate, one might doubt whether the entire ISVI senior administration is as serious as Martin and his DORS bosses seem to be about changing old patterns.
Martin reportedly continues to make substantive plans for new procedures and policies; and, while there have clearly been snags in implementing some of these, the public's very awareness of some of the problems that have arisen this year would suggest that there really is some increase in openness at the school. The committee charged with searching for a new superintendent is hard at work. David Postle is one of its members. The mother of one of the children who was sexually abused by the student called Bill is serving on the school's advisory council. These people are unlikely to settle for second best or pat answers.
It is clearly in the best interests of the blind children of Illinois for this institution to solve its problems and put the more unsavory elements of its past to rest. The school has a long history of educating blind students, many of whom have gone on to lead full and productive lives. Let us hope that in the complex and dangerous years ahead the institution can find its way to solid ground, where committed and highly trained adults will have a chance to work to educate and care for the blind children in their charge.
WITHDRAWS FROM ALABAMA
INSTITUTE JOB SEARCH
From the Editor: When all is said and
done, the residential school administrators in the blindness field comprise
a pretty small community. Everyone knows where job openings are and even, to
some extent, who is applying. Perhaps it's my imagination, but this year seems
to have been a fairly volatile one for senior level administrators at schools
for the blind. Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Illinois, Iowa, and Kentucky
all come to mind immediately. We have been reporting the circumstances that
led to the job opening at the Arkansas School for the Blind (see the November,
1994, and March and April, 1995, issues of the Braille Monitor). As we
reported last month, Dr. Richard Umsted was one of the four finalists for that
position, but Ivan Terzieff from Iowa was actually chosen. Terzieff was a strong
candidate in his own right, but Umsted's candidacy was considerably weakened
by the front-page story in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette which appeared
the weekend that the finalists were in town for interviews with the search committee
and the school's board of trustees.
All of that occurred in February. In April it was the turn of the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind to search for a principal at the school for the blind. This time Richard Umsted was one of three finalists. It wasn't long before that news got back to the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, Umsted's hometown newspaper, already on record in favor of Umsted's having nothing more to do with the education of children in the light of the DORS and state police investigation findings of what had happened during his administration at ISVI. (See "The Fall of Richard Umsted" elsewhere in this issue.) The resulting Journal-Courier story appeared on Thursday, April 6. Here it is:
Umsted in Line for School Job
by William Dennis
The former superintendent of Illinois
School for the Visually Impaired, who was fired from the position, is a finalist
for a post in Alabama.
An official at the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind said Richard Umsted was made a finalist even though the institute knew he was dismissed from ISVI for failure to report allegations of student-on-student sexual abuse.
"I am aware of the background of all our candidates," said Joseph Busta, Jr., President of the AIDB. "Richard has a very strong national reputation in the field. We are willing to take a look at him and many others."
Dr. Umsted is one of at least three finalists for the position of principal of the Alabama School for the Blind in Talladega, one of four schools operated by the AIDB, Dr. Busta said. Finalists will visit the school over the next month for interviews.
Dr. Busta hopes the position will be filled before the start of the fall 1995 semester, he said. The AIDB is operated by a board of trustees, but the final hiring decision will be Dr. Busta's.
Dr. Umsted did not apply for the job, Dr. Busta said. He was nominated for the post by professionals in the field who were aware of the vacancy.
The Illinois Department of Rehabilitation
Services fired Dr. Umsted in August, 1994. DORS claimed he failed to report
to the agency and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services that
a sixteen-year-old male student had abused a nine-year-old boy in May, 1994.
A DORS press release said Dr. Umsted also failed to report the inappropriate touching of two female students and the possible sexual abuse of four male students, including the nine-year-old boy.
Dr. Umsted had denied that charge. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The Illinois State Police investigated the incidents and gave the report to Morgan County State Attorney Charles Colburn, who said the report did not recommend criminal charges be filed.
It didn't take the reporters in Birmingham,
Alabama, long to get wind of the Jacksonville story. They began making their
own inquiries, and it is anybody's guess exactly what happened. All we know
for certain is that Richard Umsted decided "for personal and professional
reasons" to withdraw his name from consideration for the position of principal
of the Alabama School for the Blind.
One can understand why Dr. Umsted would prefer to remain in residential school administration. It has been his field for almost twenty years, but it is hard to believe that, knowing the unfortunate history at the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired under Dr. Umsted's administration, any parents would be content to have him placed in charge of their children. Even if his subordinates were responsible for some of the problems that occurred, Dr. Umsted set the tone and was responsible for seeing that his policies were carried out to his satisfaction. A number of those close to the situation maintain that he did exactly that, but even if his intention was that student safety and well- being and professional integrity be more important than the school's reputation, he somehow failed to communicate these standards to some of his staff. Perhaps Dr. Umsted would be well advised to follow Leonard Ogburn's example and look for a position in higher education. Sources close to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock report that Ogburn has applied for a position in the visual impairment program at that institution. Perhaps Northern Illinois University could be persuaded to be helpful to Dr. Umsted and the entire blindness field by finding a place for him.
[Photo #5 Portrait Caption: Lou Tutt]
SCHOOL FOR THE BLIND ON THE HOT SEAT:
ANOTHER NAC AGENCY IN SERIOUS TROUBLE
by Barbara Pierce
For many years the Maryland School for
the Blind (MSB) has been a passionate supporter of the National Accreditation
Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC). From
1979 to 1990 Dr. Richard Welsh, the current President of the NAC Board, was
the superintendent at MSB. Not only did he hotly defend NAC wherever and whenever
he could, but he did his best whenever possible to smother the consumer voice
and to ignore the organized blind movement in matters affecting his institution
in particular and blind people in general. When the National Federation of the
Blind of Maryland went to the legislature in the mid eighties to advocate for
the nation's first Braille bill to protect the right of blind students to learn
Braille, he organized MSB employees to speak against the idea, and took blind
children to the capitol to assure the legislators that they didn't want to learn
to read Braille. After MSB administrators realized that the Braille Readers
Are Leaders Contest was conducted by the National Federation of the Blind and
that NFB representatives came to campus to honor MSB winners, no more students
took part in the contest until Welsh's departure from the school.
In fact, the atmosphere at the Maryland School seems to have been generally repressive during the Welsh years. Some who knew the school well during the period say that teacher recommendations about students were frequently ignored when they conflicted with administrative convenience. So there was something of a general sigh of relief when Welsh moved on to head the Pittsburgh Guild for the Blind in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania, in 1990.
The ensuing search for a new superintendent ended with the selection of Louis Tutt, who until then had been superintendent at the Missouri School for the Blind. Tutt was a clear NAC supporter--considering the siege mentality of all NAC member agencies during those years, nothing less would have been tolerated by MSB officials. But Lou Tutt appears to fancy himself a politician and a diplomat. In dealing with the National Federation of the Blind he has tried steadily to have things both ways. For example, he has never been willing to discuss the school's decision to maintain NAC accreditation despite NAC's obviously moribund condition, the school's increasing financial pressures, and the growing number of residential schools severing their ties with NAC in recent years. Yet he has allowed MSB students to participate once more in the NFB's Braille Readers are Leaders contest.
In fact, Tutt seems to have given cautious permission for some superficial contact between the organized blind movement and the school. Barbara Cheadle, President of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, a division of the National Federation of the Blind, was invited to speak to MSB parent organizations and advisory groups; but offers by NFB officials to conduct workshops or symposia for school employees have been firmly, if bureaucratically, discouraged. After the Maryland Braille bill was passed, the school agreed to nominal participation in the implementation process, but MSB representatives have done little to assist the process. Rather, when given an opportunity to do so, they unsuccessfully argued for passage of weakening amendments.
Until the 1994 convention of the NFB of Maryland, Tutt seemed happy enough to accept invitations to address the largest organization of blind citizens in the state and even appeared on the National Convention agenda. Yet, when he was fighting for his budgetary life before the state legislature, he made no move to ask for Federation help in opposing cuts in his annual budget. In short, Lou Tutt's rules for dealing with the NFB seemed to be: Make nice as long as the activities are superficial. Don't let the blind in at any significant level of school policymaking, and certainly don't forge any alliances with consumers. Then came the 1994 Maryland convention. Once again Lou Tutt accepted an invitation to speak, but he didn't bother to turn up to do so, and he didn't send a member of his staff to take his place. He simply didn't come, and he didn't apologize for not doing so.
In many ways that act of social rudeness and administrative irresponsibility was the last straw. The NFB of Maryland had become increasingly concerned about the quality of the education and care blind children had been receiving at the MSB for several years. Budget cuts had resulted in reduction of staff, and there were signs that as usual the children were the ultimate losers.
We are most familiar with one case because it involved a member of the Federation family. In the spring of 1991 Niki White, daughter of Maryland Parents Division President Loretta White, was injured in an accident at the school, where she was a student at the time. According to her mother, the little finger on her right hand was caught in a door and nearly severed. It was a heavy oak rest-room door that snapped closed at the end of its swing. Niki's finger was in the way because, at two-and-a-half, she was sliding her hand along the wall as she walked. After what we have learned about the behavior of officials at the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired, perhaps we should be grateful that the MSB nurse who treated Niki instructed a teacher to inform her mother about the accident and insist that she take Niki to get proper medical help. According to Loretta White, she was taking care of other children when the call came, and she was told simply that Niki had pinched her finger in a door and was upset. Having no notion of the extent of the injury, Loretta pointed out that, if Niki came home on her bus, she would be home before Loretta could get her crowd of children fed and to the school. But the teacher insisted that she come anyway.
Loretta says that Niki was being rocked by a woman staff member when she got to the school and was wearing a large bandage on her hand. She asked to see the damage but was told not to remove the bandage. She asked if there had been bleeding. Yes, and you should go to the emergency room was the rather disconcerting answer she was given. She says that she still had no idea what she was dealing with because the staff kept referring to the problem as a pinched finger.
When they got to the emergency room, it was busy, and Loretta was told that Niki would have to wait her turn. But when Loretta took her to the bathroom, Niki bumped her finger, and, screaming with the pain, she tore off the bandage. For the first time, her mother says, she realized that the end of Niki's finger was hanging by a tendon. Loretta reports that the staff began yelling at her for having waited so long to get Niki the medical help she clearly needed. But there was a further wait for a hand surgeon, and when he saw the damage, he was not hopeful about whether the finger would reattach. Luckily, Loretta reports that it has done so, though she believes that Niki does not have much feeling in the finger.
As the Federation began looking into the situation, it became clear that the school was unwilling to do anything to alter its parent-notification policies or its heavy, slamming doors. The Whites were told that it would be too expensive to modify all the doors at the school so that they would not bang shut. The nurse maintained in discussions afterward that she had minimized Niki's injury because she did not want Mrs. White driving to the school in an upset condition. Only after preparations had begun for a lawsuit against the school did officials agree to make some reparations. Eventually they agreed to cover Niki's medical costs and modify some of the doors at the school. They have also now made a few changes, the Whites report, in school policies about notifying parents in case of accidents at the school.
Rumors persist about other problems and accidents. A source close to the school complains that the provisions of IEPs are often not met. In fact, she says, two deaf-blind youngsters are now attending school out of state at MSB's expense because of the school's failure to comply with IEP provisions. Jude Lincicome, who is an active member of the Maryland Parents Division of the NFB, was forced to place her son Jeremy in a first-grade class at his neighborhood school for half of each day because, in her view, the academic instruction at MSB was completely insufficient. The Braille instruction he receives at the school is good, Ms. Lincicome reports, but Jeremy was receiving one hour a week of math, and that was identification of coins, not addition and subtraction. Other subjects were even more poorly covered.
The problem according to Jude is not the teacher or the aides, who she says are excellent, but the class size and the short instructional day. According to his mother, Jeremy's new schedule has provided him with an hour and a half more learning time a day despite the hour he must spend traveling in the middle getting to his second school.
MSB officials excuse the large classes by pointing to recent budget cuts, though it is harder to understand how such cuts compel a school day that, according to parents, often begins as late as 9:00 or 9:30, ends at 2:00, and invests an hour and a half in lunch. But surely not even school officials would attribute thoughtless cruelty to a child to budget cuts. Last summer, while Jeremy was still a full-time student at MSB, on one of those days when the afternoon temperature reached ninety-eight degrees, Jude Lincicome says that he returned by bus from a music class at a nearby elementary school close to the end of the school day. Jeremy was told to remain on the bus in the parking lot to wait for the other students who were to be driven home in the vehicle. But for some reason the children were an hour late in leaving school. The bus driver and the aide assigned to the bus took turns going into the building to cool off and get drinks of water. Jeremy remained perspiring on the bus, without even an offer of water. When the other children arrived, he spent another hour getting home. Stories like this one suggest that common sense and compassion would seem to be in as short supply in some operations at MSB as funding and good faith.
Beyond these specific indications of problems at the Maryland School for the Blind, there were vague rumors and more general rumblings that all was not well. Then on Monday, April 17, 1995, the Baltimore Sun published a long story on the front page of its Maryland section. Reasonable people may differ from one another on the matter of where painful budget cuts should be made. It is always hard to reduce staff, and unhappy people will be quick to second-guess the decision-makers in power. But allegations that Medicaid funds have not been managed appropriately and questions about the allocation of seven million dollars of missing funds are serious at any time. And when an institution is in fiscal hot water, it is a matter of poor judgment on the part of someone to purchase the organization's president a new car and spend $35,000 on refurbishing his home with new wallpaper and carpeting. The whole story makes troubling reading. Here is the article as it appeared in the Baltimore Sun:
Maryland School for the Blind in
Upheavals Trouble Once-Proud Program
by Joe Nawrozki
The Maryland School for the Blind, which
has endured for
more than a century as a national model in the education of blind
and multi-disabled children, is facing troubled times.
Shrinking state support, a bitter staff shake-up, and questions about financial management have critics wondering if the school still can provide the quality care and education that have been its hallmark.
From its idyllic setting on an Overlea tract dotted with woods and a stream, and until early in this century at sites in Baltimore, the landmark school has sent thousands of blind and disabled children on to productive lives.
But now even its staunchest supporters concede that all is not well. "No doubt about it," said board chairman Harry F. Wright Jr. "This is the toughest time in the school's history."
Among the issues:
In 1991 the state cut more than $300,000 from the school's allocation. MSB depends on the state for eighty-five percent of its $12.8 million annual budget, and state funding is still below 1991 levels. The school has been unable to make up the difference from private sources. As a result, officials have secretly discussed selling or leasing some of the school's property, twenty-two buildings on ninety-five acres.
On July 1 the school's five program directors--who managed day-to-day operations and planned programs--were fired. Two members of the school's board of directors resigned in protest, and eventually forty other staff members quit or saw their positions abolished. As a result of the brain drain, many parents now say their children's education is suffering.
While school officials were lobbying in Annapolis to prevent further budget cuts, MSB President Louis M. Tutt ordered a mid-sized luxury car and had $35,000 worth of renovations done on his campus residence--including new wallpaper and carpeting.
A member of the General Assembly's Joint Budget and Audit Committee has called for his panel to investigate MSB's budget. Senator John J. Hafer, a Republican representing Allegheny and Garrett Counties, said school officials have not satisfactorily answered questions raised in a critical 1992 state audit.
Among the unresolved issues from the audit is the school's inability to account satisfactorily for more than $7 million in salaries and wages.
"I'm sensing the Maryland School for the Blind has a board of directors that is operating with a lot of latitude and without a lot of oversight," Mr. Hafer said.
The school's defenders say the disputes are the consequence of making hard decisions in a harsh financial climate.
"Lou Tutt had the guts to do what a corporate chief has to do," said Bro Tubman, who served on the MSB board from 1971 to 1990. "He took steps, as unpleasant as they might be. People who do that are often unpopular."
For his part, Mr. Tutt says the school's ability to educate its 190 resident and 200 off-campus students has not been damaged. Five years ago a national council that accredits schools for the blind every five years gave the school an excellent rating. However, that was before the reorganization and the audit.
Confidence is Coming Back
"We had some problems with the restructuring initially," he said, "but through intervention . . . visits [by parents to the school] and other steps we have taken, that confidence is coming back."
School officials say they are beefing up their efforts to raise private funds and have hired a full-time development director. They say teams have been established to communicate more effectively between the administration and staff.
Said Jeff Valentine, head of a parents' advisory council and a critic of the administration who was elected to the school's board in January, "There were cliques; it was like a family." He added, "Now we are making adjustments to survive. We have to become less dependent on state dollars and increase our fund- raising efforts."
And, he said, "the staff has to trust their bosses."
Critics say a sea change at MSB occurred in 1990, when Mr. Tutt was named superintendent after nine years in a similar post at the Missouri School for the Blind. He began a series of shake- ups and firings that left many longtime staff members bewildered and angry. Last year, Mr. Tutt was promoted to the new position of president, while Richard M. DeMott, a senior administrator at MSB since 1987, became superintendent.
Many who work at MSB describe an atmosphere of fear that grew after Mr. Tutt's arrival. In an employee poll taken by the administration, one said the school is "run as a dictatorship hierarchy."
Mary Lou Lanham of Waldorf in Charles County said she and her husband, Donald, watched their daughter Jessica, now nine, flourish in MSB's outreach program under two of MSB's fired directors, Dennis Duda and Suzanne Wayson.
"When I heard they were fired, it was like I got struck by a car," said Mrs. Lanham. "They took a personal interest in my daughter, who is blind in one eye and learning disabled. They evaluated her, got us technology to work with her. I would call them and they would return my call, sometimes late at night. . . . They didn't have a time clock.
"But now, when I call the Maryland School for the Blind, they don't return my calls," she said. "When you have a challenged child, it's very frustrating, and the school now compounds that frustration."
Under the new regime, staff members say, the school's longtime family atmosphere disintegrated into acrimony as budget problems and a growing population of multi-disabled students made the school's mission even more difficult.
Directors Fired to Cut Costs
According to Mr. Tutt, his firing of the five directors-- with agreement from the MSB board--was prompted by growing concern over the cut in state funding and the need to consolidate the staff and take other cost-cutting steps to save $1 million between 1991 and the present.
More than forty other experienced staff members of 360 either left or were fired when their positions were cut. Critics say the firings and departures hurt the school's ability to serve its population.
"People from the outside still expect them to be experts at MSB. But that's not so. Many of us see the school in a slow spiral into nonexistence," said Jane Farber, a teacher of visually impaired students in Wicomico County on the Eastern Shore.
Diane Chapman, a speech pathologist and Loyola College instructor who worked for ten years at MSB, said much of the school's intense dedication to children's care and innovative thinking evaporated in the shake-up.
"There still are some terrific people who have great skills left at the school," she said. "There was a passion for the job, and there still is, but fewer people have it."
How this has affected referrals is open to some debate. Baltimore County has not referred any school-age students to MSB in two years, although eight county infants and toddlers are receiving care there. A county source who deals with blind students and who spoke under condition of anonymity said colleagues are reluctant to refer students to MSB because of concerns about the school's professional quality.
Carole Shewbridge, a supervisor in special education, would not comment on MSB's problems. She said Baltimore County children now are taught by the county's own special education teachers in a public school setting.
Of the MSB parents who protested the reorganization, among the most vocal were Lucia and Dick Farley of Frostburg. They moved to Maryland from Rhode Island so their son, Richard, who has multiple disabilities, could attend the school.
"Richard benefitted at once from people like Monica Chan, Dennis Duda, and others at MSB," Mr. Farley said of staff members now departed. "Our son made breakthroughs at MSB nobody expected, primarily because of the courage of one of his former speech therapists who had learned some radical techniques and was entrepreneurial enough to adapt them into his program.
A Sinking Ship
"But since then, due to case overload and burnout, Richard lost three speech therapists in successive years. Other professionals have also been leaving as if from a sinking ship. More still are trying" to leave.
The lack of continuity in their son's instruction hampered his learning, the Farleys said.
Their son is still receiving the program, Mr. Tutt said. He said, "People have left for different reasons, but that has tailed off."
Parkville ophthalmologist Dr. James E. Comber resigned from the board after the five program directors were dismissed.
"Some of the program directors had established a great deal of trust in the counties," said Dr. Comber, a surgeon. "When they were fired, all of that experience was lost."
Mr. Tutt disagreed. "Those persons served the school well and the programs well. In our consolidations, we continue to serve the school districts well. We still have that experience with people who are still with us."
Mr. Tutt said the uproar over the firings has not meant a loss in private contributions. The school lost only one contributor, he said, but The Sun has identified others.
One former benefactor, retired banker Henry C. Moesinger, said he stopped donating $1,000 or more a year to MSB because "they terminated known professionals who had over 100 years in educating special children and who possessed proven quality. It was not a sound decision, and I wrote that to the board, because many things that happened there happened in secrecy."
There is no question that the school operates with little oversight. Legally, MSB enjoys a "public-private" status--one of six private institutions for the blind in the nation subsidized primarily by public funds. While MSB depends on the state for eighty-five percent of its budget, it is governed by a private, independent, volunteer board of directors. Only one of the twenty-five directors is blind.
Critics say they're concerned about how the administration has spent the money it has had.
Parents, former employees, and Senator Hafer were outraged by the $18,000 the school spent to buy the president a 1994 Buick Le Sabre last year and $35,000 spent for carpeting, wallpaper, bathroom improvements, windows, and other work on Mr. Tutt's two- story stone residence since the budget crunch began. They wondered how those expenditures would look at a time when the school was lobbying hard against further funding cuts in Annapolis.
School officials defended the spending, saying the president needed a new car and calling the money spent on his residence routine maintenance.
Car Was Board Purchase
"I did not purchase the car. The board purchased the car for me and others to attend meetings at night and during the weekends," Mr. Tutt said, although he parks the vehicle in the garage of his home.
He also said his eighty-two-year-old residence needs periodic renovation.
David L. Evans, MSB's chief operating officer, said the school did not spend state money or restricted private donations for the car or the home improvements. "Private money from our endowment fund was used," he said.
More serious, some critics say, are allegations that Medicaid funds were placed in the school's general operating fund rather than a fund earmarked for student services.
While it is not mandatory that Medicaid funds be placed in a separate account, administrators must be able to show that the money is indeed spent on student services.
The school received more than $200,000 in Medicaid money last year, according to state figures.
Mr. Tutt said Medicaid funds weren't misused and said they "were kept in a separate account" to be spent on student care.
However, three sources with extensive knowledge of the school's finances said this was not the case.
We Are Out of Compliance
"Medicaid reimbursements were supposed to go into a special fund, but they never went in one," said Pat Baker, a secretary for fifteen years at MSB's therapy and health services division before she left in January.
"We were out of compliance and could not get an accounting of where the money was going; how could it be tracked?" she said.
"We were directed to place the Medicaid funds in the general operating fund," said another source with direct knowledge of the funds. "We harped on it, but the people in power told us what to do. And at that point we were getting concerned for our jobs."
For others these are less important issues than the school's long-term financial problems. Even before the shake-ups, "the funding was not keeping up with the demands at the school," said Richard L. Welsh, MSB's superintendent from 1979 to 1990 and now president of the Greater Pittsburgh Guild for the Blind.
School officials now concede there have been discussions about selling or leasing some of the school's valuable land or buildings. Critics say they have not always been so forthcoming.
Plans for the Property
"I sat in my office with Mr. Wright [the board president] and asked him specifically about the board's long-term plan to dispose of part of the land at the school. He told me that has never been considered. I have found this not to be true," said an angry Senator Hafer.
"I want to know abut that campus utilization," he said, "I want to know if they sold the land--which is in a prime real estate area--to whom would they sell it, who would get the money, and what would they do with the money?"
School officials say there has never been a specific proposal. "The last resort would be to sell some of the grounds or buildings," said Mr. Wright, a retired banker. "But we have had to put some ideas away for a rainy day, find ways to reduce the school's operating cost."
He said the board is trying to find additional uses for its facilities, such as working with local colleges to train more care givers for the blind.
Article by Joe Nawrozki, originally printed in The Baltimore Sun on April 17, 1995, reprinted by courtesy of The Baltimore Sun.
There you have it. Is it another Illinois School? Of course not. But it is serious, and more blind children are receiving less than the quality education they need and deserve. And once again it is trained officials whose arrogance and fear of losing power are giving a bad name to professionalism. Louis Tutt and the others like him in the field of work with the blind must learn that we are going to have to come to agreement about the education of blind children and begin to work together if the forces arrayed against specialized education of blind children are not to win and destroy the only chance our children have.
MEMBERS AND FALLING:
THE NAC COUNTDOWN CONTINUES
by Barbara Pierce
It comes as no surprise to anybody that 1994 was another bad year for the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC). In summary we can report that NAC dropped from seventy-four to sixty-nine U.S. agencies still willing to have their names associated with it. True, two small agencies came on board (Pinnelas County Lighthouse and Mana-Sota Lighthouse, both in Florida), but seven had the sense and integrity to jump ship. These were Illinois Department of Rehabilitation Services, Royal Maid Association for the Blind (Mississippi), Feinbloom Vision Rehabilitation Center (Pennsylvania), York County Blind Center (Pennsylvania), Oklahoma League for the Blind, New Mexico School for the Visually Handicapped, and Wisconsin Industries for the Blind.
Following the defection of the Illinois Department of Rehabilitation Services, only four of the fifty-two state vocational rehabilitation agencies (eight percent) are willing to remain NAC-accredited. Only eighteen (twenty-two percent) of the eighty-two sheltered shops employing blind people remain in the NAC fold. And with the New Mexico School for the Visually Handicapped now gone, NAC is left with eighteen of the seventy- one residential schools for the blind (twenty-five percent) as members.
In this issue of the Monitor--an issue in which we have dealt almost exclusively with the shortcomings of residential schools--it is inevitable that we look more closely at the statistics concerning schools. Three quarters of the residential schools for the blind in this country have chosen to have nothing to do with NAC. Of the eighteen that do find it handy to wave the NAC flag, five (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, and Maryland)--almost a third--have found their way onto the front pages of the paper because of some sort of scandal during the last five years. The entire group of fifty-three non-NAC- affiliated schools can't begin to assemble a collection of illegal actions and examples of poor judgment and self-serving cruelty to rival the array this little bunch has put together. Here for all to see and appreciate is the quality of service represented by the NAC seal of good practice. It may still be too early to tell what NAC will do in response to the scandals at the Illinois and Arkansas schools, but in the past the so-called accrediting body has always studiously looked the other way when the subject of problems in member agencies has been raised. NAC has certainly had plenty of its own troubles to keep the board and the staff--such as it is--occupied. The most recent disaster to become generally known was Secretary of Education Richard Riley's decision to remove NAC from the Department's list of recognized accrediting bodies. This decision was made last summer following a meeting he had with Donald Capps, President of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina, and James Gashel, Director of Governmental Affairs for the National Federation of the Blind. Prior to that meeting, Jim Gashel wrote Secretary Riley a letter outlining the reasons why NAC should be removed from the list. Here are the texts of Jim Gashel's letter to Secretary Riley and the Secretary's letter to Ruth Westman, Executive Director of the National Accreditation Council:
FROM: James Gashel
TO: The Honorable Richard Riley Secretary of Education
DATE: May 20, 1994
RE: Reasons for removing NAC from the Secretary of Education's list of recognized national accrediting agencies
Donald Capps is the President of the National Federation of
the Blind of South Carolina, and I am the Federation's Director
of Governmental Affairs. Mr. Capps has asked me to provide you
with this briefing memorandum in preparation for our meeting of
June 2, 1994.
The organization known as NAC (cited above) is the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped. NAC currently appears on the Secretary of Education's list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies, although there is essentially no valid Federal purpose being served by this designation. At our upcoming meeting with you, we would like to discuss removing NAC from the list of recognized agencies.
Pursuant to Federal law the Secretary of Education maintains
a list of recognized agencies which accredit programs for
postsecondary-level students. Some Federal programs require that
institutions providing Federally assisted postsecondary services
must be accredited by a recognized agency as a condition for
receiving Federal funds. The accreditation requirement in
particular extends to programs serving persons who receive
Federally funded student financial aid.
The Higher Education Act Amendments of 1992 restrict the Secretary of Education's authority to recognize accrediting agencies. The revised, limited authority extends the Secretary's recognition only to those agencies which provide accreditation in relationship to eligibility for a postsecondary institution, its programs, or its students to receive Federal funds. The Secretary does not recognize accrediting agencies for any purpose other than this.
NAC'S CURRENT RECOGNITION
NAC was originally placed on the list
of accrediting agencies over twenty years ago. At that time the list included
agencies which accredited elementary and secondary as well as postsecondary
education programs. Therefore, the scope of NAC's original recognition was for
the accreditation of elementary and secondary programs, including specialized
state schools for the blind. Although NAC continues to be listed, the Secretary's
recognition no longer extends to accreditation at the elementary and secondary
levels. Moreover, accreditation must now be related to eligibility for Federal
funds at the postsecondary level in order for an agency to continue to be listed.
NAC's current scope of recognition relates to its accreditation of a small number of programs that serve blind adults. In documents on file with the Department of Education NAC has listed thirteen agencies from among its accredited member agencies that presently fall within its scope of Federal recognition. However, there is no evidence that any of the thirteen agencies or their enrollees would be disqualified from receiving Federal funds if not accredited by NAC or some other recognized agency.
REASONS FOR REMOVING NAC FROM THE SECRETARY'S LIST
(1) Recognition of NAC no longer serves
any authorized or useful Federal purpose. Programs serving blind adults receive
Federal funding primarily through the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Agencies,
such as the South Carolina Commission for the Blind, receive formula grants
administered by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services
(OSERS) and the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA). There are extensive
Federal regulations and monitoring and auditing procedures in place to assure
program integrity. The state-level programs are in turn required to have standards
for their third-party grantees to follow. Therefore, there are neither statutory
nor regulatory requirements which link accreditation of blind services programs
to eligibility for Federal funds.
(2) Even if accreditation were necessary for Federal fund eligibility, NAC does not merit the Secretary's recognition. Specific criteria are published for the Secretary to follow in recognizing accrediting agencies. There is more than ample basis for finding that NAC does not measure up to the published criteria. The following areas of weakness in particular should be noted:
(a) Lack of Acceptance Within Its Field: Rather than achieving acceptance, NAC has caused divisive controversy among agencies, professionals, and consumers. Fewer than one fifth of the agencies that could apply for NAC accreditation have ever done so, and the recent trend is for agencies once accredited to withdraw. NAC membership has fallen from a high of 104 agencies to 74 as of December 31, 1993. (b) Insufficiency of Resources: For its current funding NAC is essentially dependent upon the dues income received from its member agencies. The recent membership decline includes several large agencies which were paying dues at the maximum rate. The continued withdrawal of its members means that NAC will eventually be unable to meet its current operating expenses. Keeping the standards up to date will be impossible. Major grant funding, once provided by the American Foundation for the Blind and others, has been withdrawn. Financial insolvency within a year or two can be expected.
(c) Failure to Monitor Accredited Programs as Scheduled: During 1993 NAC was scheduled to review thirty-two of its accredited member agencies for required periodic reaccreditation, but nearly half (fourteen) of them were extended without evaluation. Several others withdrew from membership. Only thirteen of those scheduled for review in 1993 were actually evaluated. Twenty-six are scheduled for review in 1994, but only a fraction of them will be evaluated. Under NAC's current policy of extension without reaccreditation, there is no assurance that member agencies continue to merit approval.
NAC should be removed from the list of
nationally recognized accrediting agencies. In 1992 NAC's recognition by the
Secretary was extended for only a two-year, "minimum," period. Since
that time the Higher Education Amendments of 1992 were passed, further limiting
the basis for accreditation recognition. As a result the required regular review
of NAC has been postponed until the fall of 1994 or the spring of 1995.
All recognized agencies, including NAC, have been undergoing an examination to determine whether their continued listing is appropriate in light of the 1992 amendments. Some agencies will be removed from the list because there is no relationship between the accreditation they offer and the flow of Federal funds. Therefore, NAC could be removed from the list within a few months on the basis of the changed scope of recognition. This action would not imply any adverse findings, just that there is no longer any statutory authority for the recognition.
That was the memo Mr. Gashel wrote to the Secretary of Education prior to the June 2, 1994, meeting he and Mr. Capps had with the Secretary. Here is the letter Secretary Riley wrote following it:
Ms. Ruth Westman, Executive Director National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped New York, New York
Dear Ms. Westman:
You have already been informed by Wilhelmina Delco, Chair of
the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and
Integrity, that the Advisory Committee voted at its June 28-30,
1994, meeting to recommend that I withdraw the recognition of the
National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and
Visually Handicapped. As Mrs. Delco mentioned, the Advisory
Committee took this action after determining that your agency did
not meet the requirement contained in the Higher Education
Amendments of 1992 that, for an accrediting agency to be
recognized by the Secretary, it must accredit institutions of
higher education or higher education programs, as these terms are
defined in statute.
Your agency was given an opportunity to appeal the Advisory Committee's recommendation, in accordance with Section 602.14(e)(2) of the regulations governing the recognition of accrediting agencies. It is my understanding that your agency did not appeal that recommendation.
I am writing to inform you that I concur with the recommendation of the Advisory Committee and hereby withdraw recognition of the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped. I wish to make it clear, however, that I am taking this action solely for the reason stated above, not because of any determination on my part that your agency is not a reliable authority as to the quality of education provided by the institutions or programs it accredits.
Yours sincerely, Richard W. Riley
There is no reason why Secretary Riley should know what we
in the blindness field know about NAC's track record in
protecting blind consumers of services from poor programs, unjust
treatment, or illegal practices. NAC didn't accredit the kinds of
programs it had to in order to remain on the Department of
Education's list of accrediting bodies, so it was removed. The
important thing is that NAC can no longer bamboozle the
unsophisticated with claims that it is on the Department of
Education list of accrediting bodies. That fact alone should
encourage more agencies to recognize the hollowness of NAC claims
and make up their minds to jump ship.
Already there are twenty states with no NAC-accredited agencies and twenty more with only one. This means that seventy- one percent of the agencies accredited by NAC in this country are located in twelve states. In fact, half the NAC members are clustered in six states: Florida, twelve; New York, six; and Georgia, Illinois, Ohio, and Tennessee, four each. In other words, the contagion is becoming ever more localized.
There is one further aspect of the NAC question that should be reported--NAC's reaccreditation schedule. At the beginning of 1994 the list of NAC member agencies indicated that twenty-six were due for reaccreditation during the year. Six, of course, decided not to join up again (the seventh one to drop last year was Royal Maid, whose membership was not scheduled to expire until 1997). Of the remaining twenty, six received six-month to one-year extensions, and six more were extended two to four years. Who knows what the two- to four-year extensions represent, but the very short ones are usually given when NAC is hoping to entice agencies into staying when they are getting ready to defect. The remaining eight agencies plus the two small Florida lighthouses were actually reaccredited for the full, five-year period in 1994. That comes to one a month with two months left over to recover from the strain. Counting the six reaccreditations postponed a year or so, fifteen agencies are up for evaluation in 1995. The asterisk indicates that the accreditation was postponed from 1994. Here are the agencies scheduled for NAC reaccreditation in 1995:
Arkansas School for the Blind
*Santa Monica Center for the Partially Sighted
*Division of Blind Services (Florida)
*Ft. Lauderdale Lighthouse
Lighthouse of Pasco and Hernando Counties (Florida)
*Philip J. Rock School (Illinois)
Davenport Vision Institute (Iowa)
Wichita Industries and Services for the Blind (Kansas)
Tupelo Center (Mississippi)
New Hampshire Association for the Blind
*Guiding Eyes for the Blind (New York)
Rockland County Association for the Visually Impaired (New York)
Cincinnati Association for the Blind (Ohio)
*Loaia Cordero Institute for Blind Children (Puerto Rico)
The Alliance for the Blind and Visually Impaired (Tennessee)
There you have the 1994 NAC report. The National Accreditation Council continues to die the death of a thousand cuts. It must be a painful experience for those who cannot bring themselves to end the misery. But it is both painful and infuriating to watch this farce from a distance, knowing that NAC must take some responsibility for the damage done by the administrators of its member agencies like Illinois School for the Visually Impaired. When hiding the problems and hurting the children are done to protect the institution's good name, when the so-called NAC seal of good practice shields agency officials from tough public scrutiny, and when the accrediting body looks the other way rather than confront member misconduct, the blindness field must put an end to this travesty of accreditation called NAC.
If you or a friend would like to remember the National
Federation of the Blind in your will, you can do so by employing
the following language:
"I give, devise, and bequeath unto National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, a District of Columbia nonprofit corporation, the sum of $_____ (or "_____ percent of my net estate" or "The following stocks and bonds: _____") to be used for its worthy purposes on behalf of blind persons."
This month's recipes come from members of the National Federation of the Blind of North Carolina.
[Photo #6 Portrait Caption: Hazel Staley]
by Hazel Staley
Hazel Staley was the President of the NFB of North Carolina for many years before retiring in 1992. She is still active and is Secretary of the Charlotte Chapter. She is also an excellent cook.
1 pound spicy hot pork sausage
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard
6 slices white bread, cubed
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
Method: Brown sausage, crumble, and drain. Beat eggs with milk, salt, and mustard. Butter a 9 by 13-inch dish and layer bread, sausage, and cheese. Pour egg mixture over ingredients in dish. Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate overnight. Remove foil and bake at 350 degrees for forty-five minutes. Serves six.
[Photo #7 Portrait Caption: Mabel Conder]
by Mabel Conder
Mabel Conder has been a member of the NFB of North Carolina since its founding in 1969. She has served in many capacities including state Secretary, a position from which she retired in 1992. She is the chapter President in Charlotte.
2 sticks butter or margarine, melted
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 cups Rice Krispies
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Method: Sift together flour, salt, and pepper. Stir cheese and Rice Krispies into margarine mixture and add flour mixture. Mix thoroughly. Roll into small balls and bake fifteen minutes at 350 degrees.
by Mabel Conder
2 sticks butter or margarine
4 teaspoons sugar
2 cups pecans, chopped
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
Method: Cream butter and sugar and add vanilla. Beat until light and fluffy. Gradually add flour and mix in nuts. Pinch into small pieces and place on cookie sheet. Bake thirty minutes at 300 degrees. Roll in powdered sugar while still warm.
[Photo #8 Portrait Caption: Wayne and Linda Shevlin]
WAYNE'S QUICK BBQ SAUCE
by Wayne E. Shevlin
Wayne Shevlin has served as chapter President and Vice President and in many other capacities in the Raleigh Chapter. He has served on the NFB of North Carolina Board of Directors and was First Vice President for several years before becoming state President in 1994.
1 cup hot BBQ sauce (I prefer Kraft)
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
pepper and onion flakes to taste
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup catsup
Method: Combine all ingredients and cook at just below boiling point for thirty to forty-five minutes. If sauce is too hot, cut with more brown sugar. It's great served on any kind of meat.
LINDA'S STATE CONVENTION MEATBALLS
by Linda Shevlin
Besides being the better half to the state President, according to Wayne, Linda serves as state chairman of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children of North Carolina. She has served on the Board of Directors and as Vice President of the Triangle Federation of the Blind in Raleigh. She is currently chapter President.
3 pounds ground beef
1 egg, well beaten
2 medium onions, chopped
1 teaspoon celery salt
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 12-ounce bottle chili sauce
1 10-ounce jar grape jelly
Juice of 2 lemons (optional)
Method: Combine beef, egg, onion, celery, and garlic salt. Mix well and shape into balls about the size of a large marble. Saut ten minutes turning often or bake at 350 degrees for twenty to twenty-five minutes. Combine remaining ingredients and heat. Add cooked meatballs and let simmer to blend flavors. Serve hot, makes about fifty-two meatballs. I prefer to pour the mixture over the meatballs and put the mixture in a tightly closed container in the refrigerator overnight to blend. Then I heat the meatballs before serving.
SUGAR-FREE THOUSAND ISLAND DRESSING
by Sharon Weddington
Sharon Weddington has been a member and officer in the Salisbury Chapter for several years. She served as a member of the Board of Directors of the NFB of North Carolina for two terms before being elected Treasurer of the affiliate last September.
3/4 cup low-cal mayonnaise
1/2 cup spicy tomato sauce
3 tablespoons minced dill pickle or relish
1 tablespoon minced chives or onions
1 tablespoon green pepper, minced
2 packets Equal sweetener
Method: Blend all ingredients with a fork or wire whisk. Cover and store in refrigerator. Best when used within two weeks. Makes one and a half cups.
by Macie Koontz
Macie Koontz served as chapter Secretary and Vice President in Salisbury until becoming President this year.
7 cups sliced cucumbers
1 cup sliced onion
1 cup sliced green peppers
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 cup vinegar
2 cups sugar
Method: Mix all ingredients, except cucumbers. Pour mixture over cucumbers. Refrigerate. With time mixture will cover all cucumbers. Pickles are ready to eat in one to two days.
** Braille Materials Available:
In the light of the subject of this month's Braille Monitor, we thought it was appropriate to pass along the following press release, which we recently received:
Child victimization can often be prevented through education. At the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) we believe that families should be careful but that they do not need to live in fear.
In an effort to reach out to special populations of families in the United States with safety and prevention guidelines for children, we have produced two new publications in Braille: My 8 Rules for Safety and Tips to Help Prevent the Abduction and Sexual Exploitation of Your Children.
My 8 Rules for Safety contains safety tips for children. Tips to Help Prevent the Abduction and Sexual Exploitation of Your Children is a summary of NCMEC's general safety tips for parents.
Single copies of these publications are available at no cost by calling toll-free at (800) 843-5678 or (800) 826-7653 (TDD), or writing to NCMEC at 2101 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 550, Arlington, Virginia 22201-3052.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is a private, nonprofit organization that works in cooperation with U.S. Department of Justice. In the decade since its establishment in 1984, NCMEC has worked with law enforcement on more than 41,000 missing and exploited child cases resulting in the recovery of more than 27,000 children.
[Photo #9 Portrait Caption: Judy Jobes]
On March 27, 1995, Judy Jobes, who is a Federation leader in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a long-time GTE operator, was one of forty-two individual GTE employees to be honored in Dallas, Texas, with the presentation of the GTE President's Cup in Leadership. Judy was one of twelve silver cup winners and one of two blind people honored by the company. General Colin Powell addressed an audience of winners, their guests, and high company officials; and Johnnie Cash's family entertained the group. Congratulations to Judy Jobes and to GTE for its recognition of the contributions made by its blind employees.
The Polk County Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Florida conducted elections in December of 1994 with the following results: Lola Crawford, President; Nellie Stanley, Vice President; Karen Harris, Secretary; and Harold Mangus, Treasurer. Allene Ambrose, Larry Brady, Ralph Burger, Lloyd Crawford, Hugh DuBois, Byron Jay, and Elizabeth McKee were elected to serve on the Board.
** For Sale:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Webster's Vest Pocket Dictionary (seven volumes); Swan 500C amateur radio transceiver, 10-80 meters coverage, with matching power supply/speaker; hand-held microphone and TV/radio interference filter; Sony stereo three-speed, four-track tape recorder (needs repair, will take best offer); Paragon stereo audio mixer; and LP records and cassettes of mostly rock and country. For prices and further details, contact Barry and Louise Wood (in any format) at 6904 Bergenwood Avenue, North Bergen, New Jersey 07047, (201) 868-3336.
** New Chapter:
On January 11, 1995, the Sierra Chapter became the newest addition to the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico. Officers are Claudette Fletcher, President; Richard Ashcroft, Vice President; Esther Curtis, Secretary; and Bonnie Warwick, Treasurer. Congratulations to everyone in the new chapter and to the NFB of New Mexico.
** Attention New York State School for the Blind Alumni:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
The Alumni Association of the New York State School for the Blind is having its annual reunion at the Sheraton in Batavia, June 23 to 25. Everyone who went to Batavia is invited, whether you have previously attended an alumni reunion or not. A tour of the campus is planned. If you are unable to attend the reunion, you can send $5 and become a member and receive a bulletin. Contact Pat Rescorl at 268 Meigs Street, Rochester, New York 14607, (716) 244-9433.
** Hoping to Buy:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Peter Uwaechie, a new member of the NFB of the District of Columbia, wishes to buy a used Braille writer. This is what he says: "I cannot afford to buy a new one because I do not have a job. I will make every effort to come up with $50. You may write to me at 4900 Fort Totten Drive, N.E., Apartment 31, Washington, DC 20011, or call (202) 269-5687."
** Juried Art Competition and Symposium:
We have been asked to carry the following notice:
The National Exhibits by Blind Artists (NEBA) is planning its twentieth-anniversary exhibit and second art symposium to open October 11, 1995 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. To participate in this juried competition, artists are invited to request application packets from NEBA, 919 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107, (215) 925-3213. Slides and completed applications must arrive at NEBA offices no later than June 15, 1995. If you have questions, please call Vicky Collins at (215) 925-3213.
The Austin Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas elected officers at the January meeting to serve a one- year term. Elected were the following: Wanda Hamm, President; Mary Ward, First Vice President; Dale Hamm, Second Vice President; Norma Gonzales Baker, Secretary; Margaret "Cokie" Craig, Treasurer; and Ron Lucey and Hugo Sanchez, Board members.
** Book on Windows Access Now Available in Braille:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Windows access for blind computer users poses numerous problems, such as navigating the screen with a mouse. Help is here. National Braille Press has just transcribed a practical guide that shows you how to operate Microsoft Windows without a mouse--using the keyboard as an input device.
Windows from the Keyboard shows you how keyboard commands can actually speed up Windows operations. This book includes Quick-Reference Keystroke Command Charts for Windows 3.1 and Word for Windows, Ami Pro for Windows, WordPerfect for Windows, Quattro Pro for Windows, Excel for Windows, and Lotus 1-2-3 for Windows.
When necessary, screens are described in detail by a Windows expert--especially for this Braille edition.
Four volumes in Braille for $16.95 (same price as print book). Order quickly from National Braille Press, 88 St. Stephen Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, or call (617) 266-6160 and charge it with your MasterCard or Visa.
Diane Puffer, Secretary of the Houston Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas, reports that the chapter held its election on Saturday, January 25, 1995. The results are as follows: Norma Crosby, President; Henry McDaniels, First Vice President; James O. Skelton, Jr., Second Vice President; Wesley Lee, Treasurer; Diane Puffer, Secretary; and John Smith and Martha Addison, Board members.
** Braillers Needed:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Needed: Perkins Braillers for boys' school for the blind in Bangali, India. Braillers must be donated. Please send Braillers to Jackie Allen, 22828 Alice St., Hayward, California 94541.
At the January meeting of the Spokane Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington, elections were held with the following results: Maria Bradford, President; Albert Sanchez, Vice President; John Croy, Secretary; Paul Whipple, Treasurer; and Gloria Whipple and Linda Schappals, Board members.
** Recorded Books Available:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Books Aloud, Inc., produces and provides unabridged books recorded on standard cassette tape for the visually or physically disabled. We also serve those with learning disabilities. The mission of Books Aloud is accomplished primarily by dedicated volunteers. Some audition and record selected books in the Books Aloud studio. Others process and distribute the tapes through a monthly free loan circulating library. Over 6,000 titles are available for disabled readers of all ages. The recorded collection includes a variety of topics for adults and children. A catalog is available for all clients. New listings appear in quarterly newsletters. For more information, write to Books Aloud, Inc., P.O. Box 5731, San Jose, California 95150-5731, or call (408) 277-4878, (408) 277-4839.
At its annual election the Kankakee Heartland Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois chose the following officers and board members: Bill Isaacs, President; Gerald Cook, Vice President; Pat Fieldhouse, Secretary; Ruth Isaacs, Treasurer; and Dan Boudreau, Frank Richmond, and Eileen Boudreau, Board members.
** Perkins Brailler Repairs:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Perkins Braillers never wear out. Is yours getting a little sluggish? Whatever the problem, let Alan Ackley completely recondition it. Trained at Howe Press, he uses only factory parts. A certified transcriber, he knows how Braille should look. Over 1,000 Braillers restored from more than forty states and Canada. For fast turnaround, reasonable charges, and guaranteed work, contact Ackley Appliance Service, 627 East 5th Street, Des Moines, Iowa 50309, or call (515) 288-3931.
** New Chapter:
Wayne Davis, President of the National Federation of the Blind of Florida, recently wrote to report the following good news:
I am pleased to announce the formation of the new Greater Daytona Beach Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Florida. On Saturday, April 8, 1995, I had the honor of presiding at the meeting that established this fine new organization. A number of the officers and members of the affiliate Board of Directors were with me that exciting day. The officers of the new chapter are Kathy Davis, President; J.D. Townsend, Vice President; Jim Scranton, Secretary; Dr. Tom Davis, Treasurer; and Mark Truman, Miran Rodriguez, and Beverly King, Board members.
** Planning to Move?:
Since 1989 the National Federation of the Blind has had an agreement with North American Van Lines regarding members who use North American to move household articles from one place to another in the forty-eight lower, contiguous states (which does not include Alaska and Hawaii). A number of members have used this service and have saved a considerable amount of money in doing so. As they have done once or twice before, North American has recently increased the amount of discount which they will offer us. If you arrange for North American Van Lines to move, you will get a contract that will let you move with 46 percent off the normal moving costs (previously 42 percent) and 35 percent off the normal storage costs. In addition to the rate reduction, for those who use this program North American will make a contribution to the National Federation of the Blind equal to two percent of all costs of moving.
If you want to contract with North American Van Lines to move your possessions, you should call Cindy Ruppel at (800) 873- 2673. Tell her that you are a member of the National Federation of the Blind, that you have heard about the agreement between the National Federation of the Blind and North American Van Lines giving these discounts, and that you want to sign up for your move. Then remind her that two percent of the moving costs will be contributed to the National Federation of the Blind.
** Old Time Radio:
From the Editor Emeritus: In the April, 1995, issue of the Braille Monitor I announced a new partnership with Radio Spirits, Inc. (RSI). RSI is one of the leading distributors of old time radio programs and producers of the nationally syndicated OTR show "When Radio Was," hosted by Art Fleming of Jeopardy fame, heard on 250 stations. For every OTR cassette purchased by an NFB member, RSI will donate a portion of that purchase to NFB. Call Radio Spirits, Inc., at (800) 729-4587 to receive a free catalog listing thousands of OTR programs available on cassette. When you order, remember to identify yourself as an NFB member or supporter, and for every cassette you purchase the NFB benefits. Radio Spirits, Inc., features OTR's all-time favorites as well as the hard-to-find programs; each program is offered as it was originally broadcast, many including the commercials. Enjoy single cassettes, compact discs, or beautifully packaged bookshelf collections. RSI offers the best sound quality available...guaranteed. OTR is timeless quality entertainment. Some of RSI's best sellers are Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, Charlie McCarthy, The Bickersons, The Lone Ranger, Suspense, Amos `n Andy, Bob and Ray, Duffy's Tavern, Boston Blackie, Lights Out, Sergeant Preston, The Cisco Kid, Dimension X, Captain Midnight, Fibber McGee, Our Miss Brooks, X Minus One, Gunsmoke, The Life of Riley, Hopalong Cassidy, and the Great Gildersleeve. Call Radio Spirit, Inc., at (800) 729-4587 for your free OTR Catalog.
[Photo #10 Portrait Caption: Rich Crawford]
Peggy Elliott, NFB Second Vice President and President of the NFB of Iowa, recently wrote to pass along the following good news:
Rich Crawford is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa. He works as a stockbroker for the nationwide brokerage firm, Dain Bosworth, which is headquartered in Minneapolis. For the last six months Rich has been the top salesperson in the Sioux City, Iowa, office, and he was one of the top 100 sales people nationwide in the first quarter of 1995. He manages more than 100 million dollars for his clients. On March 22, 1995, Dain Bosworth recognized Rich's outstanding performance by naming him a vice president. Congratulations, Rich.
** National Church Conference of the Blind:
The annual meeting of the National Church Conference of the Blind will be held July 23 to 27, 1995, at the Holiday Inn Center Plaza, 2233 Ventura Street, Fresno, California 93721, phone (209) 268-1000. In addition to Bible studies, enjoy talent time, singing from Braille or print hymnals, choir, seminars, exhibits, tours, banquet, and wonderful times of fun and fellowship. For further information, contact Frank Finkenbinder, membership secretary, P.O. Box 163, Denver, Colorado 80201.
** More JOB News:
The Job Opportunities for the Blind notice in the "Convention Attractions" article in the April issue of the Braille Monitor omitted one breakfast meeting. Here are the details:
JOB's first Customer Service Networking Breakfast, chaired by Mary Donahue (Scott Edwards may become a co-chair), will be held on Tuesday, July 4, and will begin at 7:00 a.m. in the hotel coffee shop. Also a consultant on customer service jobs and on working at U.S. Long Distance will take part in the 1995 National Job Seminar, which will be held on Saturday, July 1, from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. in the convention hotel.
** For Sale:
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
Due to my failing health, I find I must sell much of my adaptive equipment. I am offering for sale (including shipping in the continental United States) the following:
1. Thiel Beta X3 terminal and Braille embosser #TBX 8343 and #TBX 8639 with manuals, 6- and 8-dot Braille, graphics, 130 cps. Like new. Were $16,000 each, now $6,000.
2. Epson DFX 5000 printer with 15-inch carriage. Can handle two types of forms with a press of a button. The printer does it all automatically. Was $2,000, now $600.
3. Epson DX35 printer with extra daisy wheels and ribbons. Was $650, now $125.
4. DECtalk Speech synthesizer stand alone with serial cable. Was $4,000, now $950.
5. Speaqualizer Speech Synthesizer for IBM PCs with computer card, control box with speaker, earphone jack, and 19-key keypad and cable. Was $809, now $175.
6. Votrax Speech Synthesizer, model 200B, has both serial and parallel ports. Was $500, now $125.
7. Echo PC external speech synthesizer. Was $200, now $75.
8. IBM XT, two 10MB hard drives, two 5.25 floppies, Intel 386 accelerator card on internal circuit board. Includes Artic 210 speech synthesizer card and software. Asking $275.
9. Braille Bible, King James version, complete Old and New Testaments, Grade II Braille, 16 volumes. Was $450, now $200.
10. Nemeth Code of Braille Mathematics and Scientific Notation with geometric formulas, tables of weights, etc., Grade II and Nemeth code, 5 volumes, asking $25.
If interested, you may contact Robert Larson, 2467 Homestead Road, Santa Clara, California 95050, (408) 985-2843.
In the March issue we reported the appearance of the second edition of A Guide to Guide Dog Schools by Ed and Toni Eames. We made a mistake in the listing of the Eameses'address for ordering purposes. In the meantime the book has become available from the National Library Service (RC38777) and from Recording for the Blind. The 145-page book is available in standard print or computer disk at a cost of $10 including shipping and handling. Checks should be made payable to Disabled on the Go (DOG) and sent to Ed and Toni Eames, 3376 North Wishon, Fresno, California 93704-4832. You may call (209) 224-0544.
** The Fortune of the Fortune Cookie:
From the Editor Emeritus: In both great things and small, good fortune hounds the heels of Federationists. It even happens with cookies. Consider the following letter from Junerose Killian, who as everybody knows is one of the leaders of the NFB of Connecticut. She says:
"Priscilla Nelson told us an amusing story that you might find interesting. Priscilla wanted us to have tea and fortune cookies at our exercise class but had had considerable trouble finding a place to make the cookies with her personalized fortunes inside. The only place she found was in Boston, and that would mean a day off from work, so that seemed impossible. But while cleaning up her trailer and sorting magazines and Braille Monitors, she dropped a stack of the Monitors. One Monitor fell open to a page with a recipe for fortune cookies, and lo and behold, the problem was sort of miraculously solved." The moral the Monitor staff draws from this story is clear: everyone would benefit from reading the Braille Monitor.