Friday, March 05, 2010

Deaf school to reassign teachers to meet law

Deaf school to reassign teachers to meet law

PROVIDENCE — While state officials have described problems in the qualifications of teachers at the Rhode Island School for the Deaf, the Web site of the state Department of Education lists most of them as “highly qualified” in accordance with federal law.

State Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist said the teachers are highly qualified, just not necessarily in their current assignments.

“We need to revisit the assignments,” she said.

All 35 teachers have been given layoff notices effective at the end of the school year in anticipation of a reorganization of the school that Gist ordered to ensure that deaf and hard-of-hearing students are taught by instructors with academic expertise in core content areas.

Gist said on Friday that the layoff notices should not be taken as a signal that anyone has done anything wrong.

She said the notices resulted from “this incredibly odd law” that requires public schools to notify teachers by March 1 if there is even a remote chance that they may not be rehired for the following academic year.

The law “puts a really odd and arbitrary deadline [on school districts’] and the state’s ability to work with one another,” Gist said.

For the most part, teachers at the School for the Deaf are certified in a specialty that focuses on the implications of hearing-impairment, rather than particular areas of content.

“It was kind of a shock for our folks to be told there was a question about certification,” said John Leidecker, a representative of the National Education Association Rhode Island.

Leidecker said the school administration did not inform teachers that their individual plans for professional development were deficient.

Lori Dunsmore, director of the School for the Deaf, declined comment until she has a chance to view a detailed analysis compiled by state education officials.

State education officials say the demands on teachers at the School for the Deaf are more complex than at most other schools.

Hearing-impaired students often have other special-education needs, as well as an entitlement to access to the same kind of academic material taught to non-handicapped peers in other schools.

Gist has asked Dunsmore for a new staffing plan by June 1, but Gist’s staff said they would help the school administration create a plan by April 1 to relieve anxiety and allow the recall of teachers to begin.

The Education Department will work with teachers to meet federal requirements.