Saturday, August 22, 2009

Deaf school down to six students

Source Link - Deaf school down to six students

On-campus enrollment at South Dakota School for the Deaf is down to six students this year as administrators shift their focus to helping deaf students at mainstream schools across the state.

Enrollment was about 30 in January when Gov. Mike Rounds proposed closing the campus to save money. Federal stimulus money helped keep the doors open for at least another year.

Jack Warner, executive director of the Board of Regents, which manages the deaf school, said the state will continue to serve students who use American Sign Language, but how and where they will do it is up for discussion.

The 14-acre campus is worth an estimated $10 million, and the diminishing number of students has coincided with the loss of teachers for basic classes. "It's hard to deliver a quality educational experience because a part of learning is being with a critical mass of fellow students," Warner said.

The Brandon Valley School District in April agreed to absorb the deaf school's 12-student auditory-oral program at the new Fred Assam Elementary.

Meanwhile, the ASL program lost most of its 16 students from last year. Superintendent Terry Gregersen said some of those families moved out of the area or returned their children to mainstream schools closer to home.

For years, families of deaf students have criticized administrators for reducing the services offered at the deaf school. Five such families filed a class-action complaint in federal court in July alleging that closing the deaf school would violate the state constitution.

The state has not yet submitted a formal response to the complaint. But administrators have said advances in technology have made it easier for deaf and hard-of-hearing students to go to mainstream schools, so there now is little demand for the deaf school campus.

This is the first year that outreach services are getting more funding than on-campus education. Gregersen said about 387 hearing-impaired students statewide will benefit from outreach