PHILADELPHIA – Parents, alumni, Deaf advocacy groups and faculty will demonstrate Wednesday to stop severe cuts in services and programs for Deaf students at the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf.
According to the group, the school leadership is eliminating positions of key staff members who are involved directly with providing mandated services. The Early Intervention program plans to cut staff and has shut down referrals to a program designed to be the first point of contact who families who have just learned that their child is deaf. Parents also say that students’ Individual Education Plans (IEP) are being changed unilaterally and mandated services are not being provided. In addition, new administrators are being hired who lack backgrounds and credentials in Deaf education and who do not know American Sign Language, the primary language used at the school.
A demonstration by concerned parents, alumni, faculty and staff will begin at 3:30 p.m. outside Wednesday’s PSD Board Meeting in the McGuire Center on the PSD campus, 100 West School House Lane, Philadelphia. The group is calling on the board to postpone passing a budget that would make devastating cuts, open its books to stakeholders and let family and staff help develop solutions that preserve the services Deaf and hard of hearing students need.
“We are not getting any answers about funding or why decisions are being made,” said Elizabeth Nevarez, whose fourth-grade son is Deaf and has cerebral palsy. “Children like my son have many needs. I’ve been in the classrooms, and children need more staff working, not less.”
Helen Leopold, a long-time employee who has taught at the school, worked as an interpreter and now coordinates IEPs and the preschool, said, “Services that support newly diagnosed children and their families are being cut without any consultation with families and staff. Had the administration consulted with staff, perhaps we could avoid these disastrous reductions in services.”
“As parents, we will advocate for our daughters’ future education at PSD,” said John Collins and Antonio Alicea, whose 3-year-old daughter is in PSD’s Early Intervention program. “There are no other options that offer Deaf culture taught by Deaf teachers who can relate to our child.”
Parents of a second grader who have been members of the PSD community since their daughter was two months old, say they feel ignored by the board and administration.
“Our child is a PSD success story because she has been shown pride, and was provided with the appropriate tools and direct services that Deaf children require for learning,” said Stanley and Samantha Zawislak. “We are now fearful for the new families that no longer have a school for their children, a network of support or a way to communicate effectively with their children. Our community, which was once strong and able to advocate and create success, now feels silenced and overlooked.”