Maybe you have been hearing stories coming out of Indiana and wondered what the fuss was all about. To understand the situation in Indiana, you need to know the back story. I will give you a hint upfront: oralists are up to no good.
The back story begins with Indiana School for the Deaf (ISD). Some spots opened up on their board several years ago, and after some delay and prodding, the governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels, filled these seats last spring with these people: Ann Reifel, Mary Susan Buhner, Scott Rigney, and Lucy Witte. Out of these four, only Ann Reifel fit the bill of an ideal ISD Board member: she is Deaf, a teacher, an ASL advocate and is an alumna of ISD. The other two have ties to Hear Indiana, a local chapter of A.G. Bell in Indiana. Mary Susan Buhner and Scott Rigney are married to spouses who currently sit on the board of Hear Indiana. Lucy Witte is currently the director of special education of Metropolitan School District in Wayne Township. These three also have been observed not signing in meetings, as seen in these videos. Additionally, Mary Susan Buhner and Scott Rigney have deaf children who do not get their education from the Indiana School for the Deaf. All of this adds up to a relatively clear portrait of three hearing people with no obvious ties to ISD. Clearly they don’t fit the ideal profile of an ISD board member. One wonders why Daniels chose them. Daniels could do much better, as Indianapolis has a large Deaf community to choose from.
Indiana School for the Deaf is a nationally known, much-admired bilingual-bicultural school. What that means is that ISD uses American Sign Language as the main language of instruction. English is taught as a second language, as well as reading and writing in English. The mission of ISD does not jibe with that of Hear Indiana, which endorses oral approach in education. Oral schools would not invite or choose known ASL supporters to sit on their boards, much less allow them to be part of their boards. So why is it acceptable for oralists or their supporters to sit on a board of a bilingual-bicultural, ASL-using school? Why is it okay for an ISD board member to have no obvious ties to ISD, such as being Deaf, using ASL to communicate, being an alumna of ISD, or having a child who attends ISD? Shouldn’t a school for the deaf have more deaf people on its board to assure equal representation? Letters, protests and rallies were held in an attempt to remove these three new ISD board members, all to no avail. Marvin Miller, president of Indiana Association of the Deaf, posted an update on the ISD board situation in a video, and the situation isn’t good. There are now nine hearing members on the ISD board and only one deaf person on the board.
Then the next blow fell on January 11, 2012: the Indiana General Assembly (state government) introduced a bill entitled House Bill (H.B.) 1367. The purpose of this bill: “Deaf and hearing impaired education services. Establishes the center for deaf and hearing impaired education to ensure that children who are deaf or hearing impaired acquire optimal communication and academic abilities. Requires the office of management and budget to determine an appropriate agency to provide office space and staff support for the center. Transfers the outreach services and consultative services to local education agencies to assist in meeting the needs of locally enrolled students with hearing disabilities of the Indiana School for the Deaf to the center for deaf and hearing impaired education. Provides that the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the Indiana School for the Deaf are subject to accountability provisions for performance and improvement, but are not subject to sanction provisions.”
After reading the above quote, you may be thinking that it sounds fine. What’s the big deal? If you listen to Hear Indiana, they claim that this bill would “balance the education budget in Indiana” and would “establish a neutral outreach center.”
First, the bill was written by Indiana state Representative Cindy Noe and Adam Horst, the state budget agency director. Both are also non-voting members on the ISD board. That’s your first red flag. Why would these ISD board members write such a bill that is clearly designed to hurt ISD? Shouldn’t their positions as ISD board members require a degree of loyalty? What about the appearance of conflict of interest? Most importantly, Deaf people at ISD, Indiana Association of the Deaf, and the Deaf community in Indiana were not consulted while the bill was being developed. Deaf people in Indiana only learned about this bill in a meeting on January 9th before it was introduced to the Indiana General Assembly on January 11th. This echoes what happened with AB 2072 in California: Deaf people in California were not consulted, and were largely ignored during the writing process of AB 2072. There is a pattern of not including Deaf people in the legislative process, and it keeps happening. This is unacceptable.
During that meeting on January 9th, Deaf people learned from Adam Horst that Office of Management and Budget (OMB) apparently views ISD as being less than equal in quality to their state public schools as evidenced in their PowerPoint presentation: “Add ISD and ISBVI to IC20-31 (P.L. 221) to ensure that the quality of education are equally [sic] to public schools.” Really? ISD isn’t as good as Indiana public schools? ISD is accredited by the Conference of Educational Administrators Serving the Deaf (CEASD). The high school program at ISD complies with the Indiana Academic Standards and is accredited by the Indiana Department of Education through the Performance Based Accreditation (PBA). Additionally, the middle school program at ISD follows the curriculum as set forth by the Indiana Department of Education Proficiency Standards, and is also accredited by the North Central Association (NCA). How much more ‘equal’ can ISD get to Indiana public schools? Seems to me that ISD has already been doing what they are supposed to. Why isn’t that enough for Adam Horst, OMB, and Hear Indiana? Think about that. That’s your second red flag.
The bill would take away outreach services from ISD and place it in a center staffed by an agency chosen by the Indiana Office of Management and Budget. Ask yourselves, why? Why is this move necessary in times of tight economy and limited budgets? Indiana School for the Deaf already provides top-notch outreach services to all parents in the state. The ISD outreach office is staffed by people trained in Deaf education and/or Deaf-related fields. They know their stuff. Would you really want a center that most likely will not be staffed by trained, knowledgeable personnel who will know little or nothing about deaf and hard of hearing children and/or who may only know or view deaf people through the lens of the medical model? Additionally, having the outreach services at this new center would mean that ISD would no longer be able to talk with parents of deaf and hard of hearing children. The parents of deaf and hard of hearing children would most likely receive information about options that do not include sign language, and this would further affect the enrollment numbers at ISD. That’s your third red flag.
Hear Indiana claims that this bill would equalize how Indiana spends its education budget. The executive director of Hear Indiana, Naomi Horton, said: “At the end of the day, this entire conversation is about right-sizing the budget for deaf education in Indiana,” Ms. Horton said. “No one wants to take the ASL option away; we simply want to see that parents who choose listening and spoken language instruction (over placement at the Indiana School for the Deaf) have equal access to a free and appropriate public education.” Well, I would like to believe her, but the fact that Hear Indiana allowed at least two of its members to be chosen to sit on ISD board clearly contradicts her statement. They have ignored everything that Deaf people have expressed about this situation, and if they truly respected Deaf people’s right to be educated in ASL, they would instruct Buhner and Rigney to quit their ISD board positions immediately as a show of support and good faith. This has not happened. That’s your fourth red flag.
The bill has been declared “as an emergency,” as seen in the last line in this link. Why? Why the rush? The outreach office at ISD is certainly not broken and does not warrant an immediate “fixing.” Seems to me that the whole thing is actually a power struggle, and oralists in Indiana are actively destroying ISD from within and without. Shame on Hear Indiana, its members, and their supporters. How many more red flags do you need? After what almost happened in California with AB 2072, don’t let the oralists win in Indiana. Remember, AB 2072 was defeated only because the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, refused to sign the bill. You can be sure Mitch Daniels (governor of Indiana) will sign this bill (HB 1367) if it makes it to his desk. Fight back!
[Author's Note: At press time, this writer learned that the House’s Education Committee has put this bill on their calendar to be heard on January 25th at 8:30 a.m.]
[Editor's Note: Credit for the creation of the logo for the Indiana Deaf Education Coalition used in this article goes to Ken Arcia.]
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