SD Association of Deaf send letter to Noem, opposing the sale of school for deaf

The South Dakota Association of the Deaf is pushing back against the sale of the South Dakota School for the Deaf and its new location.

In a letter to Governor Kristi Noem on Wednesday, the organization said "without having a cohort of deaf educators and programming at a centralized location (such as a deaf school due to its closing), by dispersing a critical mass of deaf and hard of hearing students throughout the state who share a collective need for communication adaptations and then to discontinue the very preparation programs needed to train new, up-and-coming educators who must have a very specific skill set and knowledge base pertaining to visual language development/ acquisition and deaf education, we’ve essentially taken an unfortunate situation and have worsened it for the state’s K-12 students just when they need it the most."

The organization also questioned the state choosing to spend money to relocated and renovate. The organization said the South Dakota School for the Deaf can earn money by renting out the soccer field to the public or organizations. The new location is not environmentally friendly and not safe.

Read South Dakota Association of the Deaf's full letter to Noem below:

Dear the Honorable Kristi Noem:

On behalf of the South Dakota Association of the Deaf (SDAD) Board of Directors, our association’s membership and the deaf community of South Dakota, we express our opposition of the sale of the SD School for the Deaf (SDSD) and opposition of the new location.

Since the passage of Public Law 94-142, the I.D.E.A. reauthorization legislation, and the subsequent closure of the SDSD in 2010, it means that there are no longer epicenters of knowledge and expertise when it comes to serving deaf and hard of hearing children. Instead, we see these students being mainstreamed in public school programs all over the state and many lack the expertise and knowledge to serve them. Admittedly, SDSD still maintains limited outreach efforts, but the shortage of staff and programming compounded by the rural nature of our state means that these students often fail to get necessary support that they need on an ongoing or regular basis - intermittently at best or sometimes only during their I.E.P. meetings.

This is truly a detriment, if not a travesty. Without having a cohort of deaf educators and programming at a centralized location (such as a deaf school due to its closing), by dispersing a critical mass of deaf and hard of hearing students throughout the state who share a collective need for communication adaptations and then to discontinue the very preparation programs needed to train new, up-and-coming educators who must have a very specific skill set and knowledge base pertaining to visual language development/ acquisition and deaf education, we’ve essentially taken an unfortunate situation and have worsened it for the state’s K-12 students just when they need it the most.

There are currently 500 + deaf and hard of hearing students in the state of South Dakota. We have witnessed the parents of deaf children seek the professionals’ guidance on how to work with deaf children or how to best raise deaf children. The districts and schools have struggled to recruit or hire professionals with this expertise, and they severely lack the background or training in deaf education without them. As a result, the parents often receive inaccurate information, or else little or no guidance at all. Students receive substandard support and are unable to attain their full potential. Some may believe that hiring ASL interpreters to work in mainstreamed classrooms or the new technology such cochlear implants are the ultimate answers, and that we no longer need school for the deaf. That’s not true. ASL interpreters are great at facilitating communication between those who are deaf and those who are not, but they are not experts in deaf education or language acquisition, and their job is not to teach deaf children. Cochlear implants and speech are not always effective for all of deaf and hard of hearing children. The children may have delay in their language acquisition. Furthermore, some districts and schools have struggled to recruit or hire professionals with this expertise; however, more significant, most districts and schools work adversely against the deaf and hard of hearing students' needs by refusing visual language access all the while knowing that most families lack legal support.

When the Board of Regents had a meeting at the SDSD campus two years ago, the deaf and blind community had voiced their concerns in regards of the facilities and education. The SD School for the Blind and Visually Impaired will have a new school building. While the issues of quality education for the deaf and hard of hearing children were “ignored” or “ pushed under the rug”. The State chose to proceed with the sale. Many questions remain unanswered.

When the sale of the SDSD took place, there was no transparency. The Board of Regents (BOR) had not yet made an effort to reach the deaf community and seek our comments. The BOR didn’t include the sale of the SDSD campus on their meeting agenda. We and parents of the deaf children were not given an opportunity to voice our concerns. We later learned that the deal is nearly completed. Why did we have public hearing in the first place?

Currently the SDSD has nearly 100% occupancy. Some agencies, including SDSU Extension have leased the office spaces. The Department of Health just committed to a 10 year lease. Our question is why would the State chose to spend millions of dollars to relocate and renovate? The SDSD can earn money by renting out the soccer field to the public or organizations. The new location is not environmental friendly and not safe. There is no place where deaf children can play and feel safe. It looks like the pressure of selling the campus comes from the City of Sioux Falls and the Governor's Office. According to the SD Constitution, the State has a responsibility to provide a school and provide education to the deaf and hard of hearing children. We strongly encourage you to focus on the quality of education for our beloved deaf and hard of hearing children.

In closing, on behalf of the SDAD Board and the deaf community, we sincerely ask you to reconsider by not selling the SDSD campus. We want to thank you for your time and consideration regarding this request and look forward to your response. Please do let us know if we can visit with you in person or if we can answer any questions that you might have related to this request.

Sincerely,
Jeff Panek
President
SD Association for the Deaf