Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A letter from Laurent Clerc Parent

Subject: Re: Letter
Date: Wed, 18 Oct 2006 09:00:31 -0400

As a parent of a child at the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center, first at the Kendall Demonstration Elementary School (KDES) and now at the Model Secondary School for the Deaf (MSSD), I cannot support your selection as the next president of Gallaudet University.

In your Letter of Application, you wrote:

Elementary and secondary education. In 1995, I came to Gallaudet’s Pre-College Programs (now known as the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center) after having served for five years as head of the Hawaii Center for the Deaf and the Blind. I led a highly participatory process that resulted in the National Mission Plan and a complete restructuring of the demonstration elementary and secondary schools, as well as a restructuring of their research, development, and dissemination arms. The Education of the Deaf Act mandated us to focus on five priority categories of deaf and hard of hearing children and youth, including students who are from diverse cultures, who are lower achieving academically, whose families speak a language other than English at home, who have additional disabilities, and who live in rural areas.

In the spring of 1997, I wrote the following description about what was happening at KDES:

Please understand that I have no problem with the theories or principles behind what has been proposed: restructuring, integrated curriculum, team teaching, multi-leveling, inclusion of Special Opportunities Program (SOP) children in the mainstream. I do have a problem with the implementation; implementation so rapid that the school has, in my opinion, set itself up for failure. There has been insufficient time, consensus, leadership, management, support, hiring, training, education, and response to concerns. This has manifested itself on the parent, teacher and staff levels in the form of dissatisfaction and complaints which have gone unresolved. A frequent response is to point fingers at the administration.

The restructuring was perhaps brilliantly conceived and its reported implementation has undoubtedly gained the Congressional favor it was intended to foster. However, it is unrealistic to believe that a massive reassignment of teachers, staff, students and facilities, and massive change in teaching theories, principles and practices, could be implemented over the course of one summer [in 1996], during which only one week was provided for the newly-identified teams to meet, be trained and carry out the administration’s objectives. To this day, the hiring is still not complete, the theories and principles still not understood or practiced, acceptance by and cooperation among team members has not been achieved (something professional journals indicate is critical to the success of new programs), and training is almost nonexistent (especially leadership training).

I am particularly concerned about the integration of SOP children without adequate planning of activities, staff support and training. I have personally observed disruptive, uncontrolled behavior among some of the students. In one instance, a child was moved to a separate table in the classroom. Unattended, the child proceeded to smash the head of his pencil into the tabletop. Recently, it was reported to me that [an] SOP student attempted to choke my child. I have no sense of confidence that the school has what it takes to minimize behavioral disruptions and maximize the academic and social/emotional benefits that these SOP children can obtain in a mainstreamed environment.

Considering the lack of school-wide leadership, management, coordination, support, staffing and training, it is almost amazing that KDES continues to function. I attribute this to the resilience, determination and professionalism of individual teachers, [like my child’s teacher]. I also attribute this to the resiliency, flexibility and ability of the children to cope and learn in an environment that frequently changes. However, there are costs which can be measured in terms of faculty, staff and student retention, along with student achievement in academics and social/emotional growth. In my humble opinion, the costs may be too high.

KDES used to be a community of caring teachers, parents and students. During the past year, communication between the administration and parents, and in many cases between teachers and parents, has been almost nonexistent. Today, the level of frustration, anger and disappointment among us is almost palpable. Morale among faculty and staff is the lowest I have ever seen. Instead of just being autocratic or dictatorial, the administration is beginning to appear oppressive. Many families are responding by moving their children to other schools.

On May 8, 2006, I read an article in the DC Examiner – “Gallaudet president-select answers her critics” by Bill Myers (interview with Jane K. Fernandes) – :

Q: What about the 75 students who went over to the Maryland School for the Deaf from the Gallaudet pre-college program while you were in charge?

A: There was a “white flight.” And at that time, there was a program [here] called the Special Opportunities Program. And of the 50 students were in the program, 49 were African-American. And that was a program that did not have very high academic standards, that didn’t have high expectation for the students. So I restructured the schools so those students would be integrated with deaf white students. And parents who didn’t want to work with that made a decision to move to other schools. And that’s their right to do that. And I hope they’re getting a good education.

Dr. Fernandes, your assessment of what transpired at the Clerc Center under your administration is seriously flawed and your response to what transpired, given as a university president-select, labeling your constituency racist, is absolutely appalling.

The author of this letter wishes to remain anonymous to protect the identity of her child.